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7 Synthesis: Human Worth, Dignity and Rights 319

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life with dignity.
According to this conception, human dignity also demands rights assuring more
than an animal existence, rights empowering a dignified existence, worthy of human
dignity, including a minimum participation in social, cultural and political life. This
conception grounds the indivisibility of all categories of human rights.
The dignity of human beings is actually relative still in another regard: its indi-
vidual expression and social respect depend upon individuals’ physical and mental
integrity, behavior and merit, as well as on their cultural, social and economic con-
texts and conditions. That is why it may be captured by collective representations
not compatible with human worth, or undermined by individual behaviors that may
legitimize public punitive measures.
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sist? What are the biological underpinnings of the human species’ uniqueness?
– Neuroplasticity
The brain is the organ that best epitomizes the unique character of Man, particu-
larly because of its neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is a fourth dimension of the
neuron, the discovery of which amounted to a conceptual revolution. It explains
the most distinctive feature of the human brain, which is its uncanny ability to
create maps. The neural maps are the objective basis of sights, sounds, touches,
smells, tastes, pains, pleasures, and the like—in brief, images.
– Symbolic systems
Human beings are human because of their symbolic systems, that is, the aptitude
to create and to use symbols and signs. Its highest expression is language that
is the power and the glory of human life and the very foundation of the whole
culture. It is so definitive of the human species that the human being may be
considered, first and foremost, a ‘homo loquens’.
What is more, the human being may be rigorously defined as the semiotic ani-
mal, that is, at the same time creator of signs and intimately created by them.
Semiotic power equipped the human species with a new method of adaptation to
the environment, allowing for life in a new dimension of reality.
– Mind, consciousness, self
The mind is the core of our species’ uniqueness and the essence of what it means
to be human. It is formed by neural maps and images so that mental states and
brain states are essentially equivalent. Whence emerged consciousness that is
a state of mind in which there is knowledge of one’s own existence and of the
existence of one’s surroundings. The self is the single voice of a conscious brain.
– Liberty, rationality and morality
The symbolic system endowed the human species with the liberty of rationality,
that is, liberty of abstracting and transcending the sensible, immediate world. In
fact, the arbitrariness of signs liberates the soul from its dependence of the ob-
320 5 Human Dignity Principle

ject. That is why language is said to be the support of rationality, which is the true
nature of man, enabling the human species to escape from the animal condition.
The human being is best defined, however, as fundamentally a moral being, that
is, endowed with moral freedom or autonomy of the will, understood as obedi-
ence to a law which we prescribe to ourselves. Indeed, considered as a person,
i.e. as the subject of ethico-active reason, the human being is exalted beyond all
price, because it is invested with an internal dignity (an absolute worth).
– Cultural revolution
The dialectical complexification of the human brain, closely related to the human
species’ social nature, paved the way to a new type of evolution—driven by imagina-
tion and creativity, traits defining the human nature—that amounted to a biological
revolution called culture. The human being became a social animal self-domesticat-
ed after the neolitic, that is, the artist of himself. It is the sole animal able to live its
life as a project, and Humankind the sole species that designs a vision of future.
The cultural revolution has been operated by new devices of regulation, which
are unique to our species, such as justice systems, economic and political orga-
nizations, the arts, medicine, etc. but in particular by a special kind of human
innovation: the social creativity that we call morality and ethical thought. This
is something probably unique to humans: a moral point of view that, on occa-
sion, can transcend the interests of the immediate group and even the species.
Close to morality is Law that was defined as the dialectic by means of which man
forces himself to a best he invents. The idea of human rights, in particular, is the
principle of an indefinite surpassing of man by man.
– Born to rebirth
The consequence of escaping from a mere zoé (natural life) and of inventing
a bios (historical life) was the openness that characterizes our species and the
premature birth of the human being who is not born finished but becomes. This
is the natural human perfectibility that implies the cultural perfecting of human
beings. Perfectibility and perfecting mean educability and education. Education
amounts to a second birth for a second nature—the very human nature. The se-
miotic animal is a pedagogical animal.
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distinguishes human beings from other animals, i.e. what makes them humans
are the higher faculties of intellect, freedom, and will. The human being is a
rational and moral animal, capable of autonomous agency. This idea should
be understood in the light of the contemporary ethical-juridical conscience
and scientific findings.
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cal worth of every member of the human species. It should be inclusive of
both those human beings not yet or no more capable for reason and moral
agency, as well of the conditions and means necessary to the realization of
human perfectibility and perfecting.
5.7 Synthesis: Human Worth, Dignity and Rights 321

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the complex of the main features of the brain peculiar to the human species,
constituting the infrastructure of its aptitude for liberty, rationality and moral-
ity. Such aptitude is the substance of the human worth underlying human
dignity and needing the protection and provisions of human rights.
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tive organ, and the mind is embodied, in the full sense of the term. In this light:
ż Rationality should be holistically understood as a human power concerned
with values and concepts, knowledge and behaviors, creativity and respon-
sibility, present and future.
ż Nature-culture, innate-acquired, socialization-individuation, reason-
emotion, are superseded dichotomies, now reconciled in a dialectic that
grounds the specification of Humankind.
ż Education is driven by emotion and reason, in cultural, social and familial
contexts, and should aim at cultivating moral and cognitive creativity and
responsibility.
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human species and the perfecting of individual human beings is epitomized in
Article 3 of the Universal Declaration on the Human Genome and Human Rights
(UNESCO 1997)266:
The human genome, which by its nature evolves, is subject to mutations. It contains poten-
tialities that are expressed differently according to each individual’s natural and social envi-
ronment, including the individual’s state of health, living conditions, nutrition and education.

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cal dignity may be so drawn:
Human Duties
Human Rights
Human Dignity
Human Worth
Perfectibility-Perfecting
Creativity-Responsibility
Rationality-Morality
Signs-Liberty
Emotion-Brain
‡ (DFKKXPDQEHLQJEHFRPHVhuman insofar as his or her basic needs are satisfied
and the symbolic system—created between the receptor system and the effector
system—is fed by feelings of happiness, goodness, openness, otherness, respon-
siveness.

266
www.unesco.org/new/en/social-and-human-sciences/themes/bioethics/human-genome-and-
human-rights/.

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