The main purpose of this paper is to clarify some senses of dignity that are particularly relevant for the treatment and care of the elderly. I make a distinction between two quite different ideas of dignity, on the one hand the basic kind of dignity possessed by every human being, and on the other hand the dignity which is the result of a person's merits, whether these be inherited or achieved. Common to both these ideas is that having a dignity entails having a set of rights, in the case of basic dignity the set of rights which we call human rights, the rights which the United Nations, among others, has tried to determine. The dignities of merit also provide some rights, although normally rights with limited scope covering, for instance, a professional area. This observation gives my preliminary answer to the fundamental question of what distinguishes dignity from other high values that could be attached to humans. I discuss further a kind of value that might be mistaken for a kind of dignity, viz. what I call public status. This status is to be distinguished from social status (the status of e.g. kings, governors, and officials) that I take to be a proper dignity of merit. The public status is the status gained solely via public perception and not directly via any merits on the part of the dignified. Finally, I turn to the topic of the dignity of the elderly and try to determine whether there is some dignity peculiar to the elderly, and which is over and above the basicMenschenwrde. My two preliminary proposals are the following: the elderly have a dignity of wisdom and they have a highly general dignity of merit, which results from their life-long efforts and achievements, and for this they deserve our gratitude
Keywords dignity  the elderly   Menschenwürde  merit  public status  respect  rights  values  wisdom
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Reprint years 2004
DOI 10.1023/A:1024110810373
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References found in this work BETA

Humiliation, Dignity and Self-Respect.Daniel Statman - 2000 - Philosophical Psychology 13 (4):523 – 540.
An Analysis of “Dignity”.Philip R. S. Johnson - 1998 - Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 19 (4):337-352.
Dignity and Responsibility.Zbigniew Szawarski - 1986 - Dialectics and Humanism 13:2-3.

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