Philosophical Perspectives on Dignity: Dignity as Arche and Dignity as Telos

In Susan S. Levine (ed.), Dignity Matters: Psychoanalytic and Psychosocial Perspectives. London: Karnac Publishing. pp. 49-59 (2016)
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Philosophers and bioethicists have mostly given up on human dignity. As a concept, dignity has seemed obscure and unintelligible, or forbidden because of its connection with theology. Here I take a fresh look, and identify two families of dignity concepts: dignity as arche and dignity as telos. Arche draws on the idea of an origin or source, as in ‘archetype’ or ‘archeology.’ Dignity as arche refers to the qualities inherent in a being that is the source (the arche) of our duties to that being. Dignity as telos is the endpoint (telos) that we try to promote in our patients and in ourselves. I illustrate these ideas using examples from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s book for young readers, A Little Princess. Identifying these two families of dignity concepts helps to identify the dignity-related tasks for psychotherapists. These are to help patients recognise, connect with, and respect their own dignity as arche, and to help them realise their own dignity as telos. Revisiting Maslow’s hierarchy of needs helps us to see how these tasks also apply to the broader goals of healthcare.



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Kenneth A. Richman
Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences

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