Masaryk University Faculty of Arts

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Since dignity is relatively subjective characteristic it is important to specify its attributes for further use. For this purpose this chapter is dedicated to clarify the subject by applying philosophical texts on the topic and providing my own personal standing on the matter.


Aristotle once said that dignity does not consist in possessing honors, but in deserving them. It could be true but not everything in life is as someone deserves it so the explanation which Thomas Hobbes provides is more probable. Hobbes speaks of power which a person can possess based on their qualities such as success, eloquence or good looks and with more power their value raises (39). He concludes that this worth is conditional because it depends on someone else′s need or judgment (39). Hobbes says, “The public worth of a man, which is the value set on him by the commonwealth, is what men commonly call DIGNITY” (39).

A different conception of dignity is provided by Kant in The Moral Law where he says, “everything has either a price or a dignity. If it has a price, something else can be put in its place as an equivalent; if it is exalted above all price and so admits of no equivalent, then it has dignity” (102). He explains that dignity is something that has “intrinsic value” and not relative value (102). With his reasoning he opposes both Aristotle and Hobbes. According to Kant only humans can attain dignity as their rational nature allows them “to make universal law” (106-07).

Another influential philosopher, Arthur Schopenhauer, expressed his opinion on dignity: he strongly disagrees with Kant′s perception. Schopenhauer points out that “Every value is the estimation of one thing compared with another ; it is thus a conception of comparison, and consequently relative; . . .” (101). By this statement he contradicts Kant′s idea of dignity as “an unconditioned and incomparable worth” (103).

Mette Lebech, in his essay “Human Dignity” examined different approaches to dignity and how they changed with time and comes to the conclusion that “The experience of human dignity underlies the idea and principle of human dignity. The idea was, however, thought of as relying upon different aspects of the human being: on its nature; on relativity to God; on reason; or on social integration” (12).

After researching the materials mentioned above, it is clear that there is not one definition of dignity but many. Nowadays it is established by the Church and by governments that each person has the right to have dignity and therefore should be treated accordingly. Lindner points out that dignity and honour differ on the grounds of cultural beliefs, she uses honour killing as an example to show that there are several layers of honour, dignity and humiliation (1).

Even though many voices state that the dignity is inherited only by human beings, who obtain it as soon as they are in the womb, the inclination of this thesis is to a different opinion. I do not deny that it is human thinking that allows the term “dignity” to exist and be applied, but I came to the conclusion that dignity is obtained rather by experience, morality and purpose and can also be possessed by animals. For the different cultural beliefs, I think that if someone has no dignity in a different point of view it is not a reason to be mistreated. In addition, I acknowledge the dignity of places that they obtained by the presence of people or on the contrary by their absence.

2.2 Dignified death

Dignified death occurs in several of Hemingway′s works, many of which are analysed in this thesis. Against the belief of many religions as well as doctors that one must to live as long as possible, Ernest Hemingway elaborates on the topic by letting his heroes commit suicide. There are many activists who fight for the right to allow people to die with their dignity which means to assist them when they decide to die and are physically unable to end their life themselves. The general idea is that at the point when person still has free will and is mentally capable to make decisions but is forced to continue life in prolonged suffering, without control over their own body it should be possible to let them go. Unfortunately the technological advances of modern society make it possible to prolong a painful, undignified death up to months and sometimes more, far beyond the time when that person′s life had any standard or meaning. Hemingway′s heroes face death sometimes with fear and sometimes with hope but they never suffer too long.

In my opinion it is natural to fear death and it is unusual to have the opportunity to die as a hero, in this regard Hemingway′s “instructions” are hard to accomplish by the majority of people. If the conditions of my life changed, I would like to have the opportunity to decide the details of my death as Hemingway and some of his heroes did.

3.Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises

This novel was chosen for this study for its excellent illustration of the contrast between dignified and undignified. Also, The Sun Also Rises published in 1926 is one of the Hemingway′s most famous works. “This book made him, almost instantly, an international celebrity . . .” (Nagel 87).

The story takes place during summer in the 1920s and it is the retrospective narration of the main character, Jake Barnes. It starts in Paris where the main protagonists are introduced. The beginning is devoted to the description of the Jake′s tennis friend, Robert Cohn. Then the focus is shifted to Jake and his disability, his friends and most importantly his love – Brett. Jake works as a foreign correspondent and plans to go to Spain for his major hobbies, which are fishing and watching bullfights. The story continues in Spain where he and his friends go to a festival in Pamplona to watch bullfights but their adventure ends up bitterly, as Edmund Wilson pointed out “all the things that are wrong with human life are there on the holiday” (9), and each goes their own way, some relationships irreversibly altered.

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