In this paper, we draw on a phenomenological–philosophical foundation to clarify the meaning of dignity as a coherent phenomenon. Consistent with an evocation of its central meanings, we then introduce and delineate seven kinds of dignity that are intertwined and interrelated.We illustrate how these kinds of dignity can provide a useful template to think about its qualities, its ‘rupture’ and its ‘restoration’ in human life, particularly in relation to health and social care contexts. We then consider the implications of these relational and experiential views for current debates about the notion of dignity: Is dignity a useless concept? Is dignity objective or subjective? What are the useful ways of characterizing different varieties of dignity? We conclude by pointing to a metaphor that may hold the sense and meaning of our deepest human dignity: The gathering of both value and vulnerability, in which human value does not depend on the eradication of human vulnerability, but occurs within its very context.
Bibliographical note© 2014 The Authors. Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited and is not used for commercial purposes.
- caring science
- ethics of care
- existential theory
- medical humanities