Tuesday, September 06, 2022

Reverentia Dignitatis Cuiusque — Reverence for the Dignity of Each

Stuart K. Hayashi


The writer Hannah Eason asked me if I knew if there already existed a special term for a particular philosophic idea. There is a role, she thinks, for reverence for some very important values and institutions, a reverence that is comparable to what is found in religious worship. Instead of being for some supernatural being, though, that reverence would be for the dignity of the individual. The idea is that you don’t have to justify your existence by obeisance to some supernatural being, or servitude to some institution. No, your right to your own existence, peaceably, is its own justification and has its own dignity. Is there already a word for that?

I had to admit to Hannah that I didn’t know of such a word. Her idea sounds very consistent with the sort of philosophic trends to emerge from the Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment. Even then, I am unaware of the thinkers of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment using a single word or even a short phrase to delineate precisely what she has in mind. I suggested that we might need to invent our own term for it.

At first I tried to come up with some single-word neologisms. But later I thought that maybe a short phrase of two or three words might suffice. After all, laissez faire and laissez-nous faire are each more than one word. I thought that perhaps our new short phrase could be in Latin. As legal scholars, biologists, and Renaissance philosophers have long noticed, an idea sounds fancier and more impressive when said in Greek or Latin.

I went to Google Translate. On the input side I entered in English, “reverence for dignity.” On the output side, Google Translate said that the Latin for this is reverentia dignitatis. When I re-enter reventia diginatis, this time on the input side, the output side says that in English this is “respect for dignity.”

I tried again. For the input side, I entered “reverence for the individual’s dignity.” A few times, the output side would spit out, once again, reverential dignitatis. But later it said in Latin this could be reverentia dignitatis cuiusque. That last word is pronounced KOO-yoos-kway. When, for the input side, I entered reventia dignitatis cuiusque, the output side said that the English translation is “Respecting the dignity of each.”

We could benefit from paying mind to reverentia dignitatem cuiusque — reverence for the dignity of each.