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Dignity need not be coupled with theology. The South African offence
of 'crimen injuria' is the offence defined as the act of "unlawfully,
intentionally and seriously impairing the dignity of another."
It is based on the 'Latin phrase crimen iniuriae, which should mean
'accusation of abusive behaviour' (
The search for an understanding of a secular basis...
The search for an understanding of a secular basis for the notion of
'dignity' could benefit from an examination of Roman and South African
The word itself goes back to the Roman 'dignitas', a strongly related
notion, that also may be worth examining to gain a secular picture
This article ( http://athensdialogues.chs.harvard.edu/cgi-
bin/WebObjects/athensdialogues.woa/wa/dist?dis=22 ) on three types of
dignity considers, inter alia, the Ancient Greek model, which would have
informed the Roman.
In support of the universality of the notion if dignity, it is wirth
noting that it also appears in the Chinese and Japanese constitutions:
The specific question of how dignity relates to the treatment of the
dead is, I think, related, but separate. A corpse, in Roman law, is a res
nullius, a thing that belongs to nobody, which attracts only duties, not
rights. Organ transplant from corpses, of course, complicates this because
a human organ can be possessed, and has value, possibly even monetary
value, but this does not relate to dignity.
The inarticulate, or instinctive, belief, or feeling, that corpses
are special, and must be treated with respect, relates more to the notion
of the 'sacred', which also exists in a secular sense. This sense relates
to aesthesics and sentimental preciousness, rather than to dedication to
the gods, but is a real and important human universal.
The question of the treatment of the deceased might be considered as
part of the wider question of what, in a secular world, is sacred - a
question that most certainly does not have the answer 'nothing'.