By Laura L. Corvino

Human Digniyty


The concept of human rights proceeds directly from Christianity. In the Bible is written that men have been built in God’s image and as a representation of the divine, they carry the divine in themselves (Gen.:1:27). The interesting fact is that in many pre-Christian cultures men and women were capable to acting accordingly to high moral standards. In other words, it’s not necessary to be a Christian to know the difference between right and wrong and apply it. It is like if all the truth of the universe is already contained in the human soul. And the reason for that is again the fact that men have been created in the image of God and so they have in themselves the seeds of God’s behavior and thinking. This is where the Natural Rights come from (Smith, 2003). The right to freedom, life, having a name, being treated with respect, and so on are rights everyone has been born with and this is a concept that everyone can instinctively feel as truthful inside themselves. Human dignity is one of the basic natural rights (Mea & Sims, 2017) which originated in all major codes of laws in the Western world (Smith, 2003). Human dignity, as one of the human rights it’s at the base of the creation of many pieces of legislation. A clear example of laws created to protect basic human dignity are the laws, present in most criminal legislation and also in the 8th amendment of the United States Constitution which specifically states “Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted” (U.S. Const. Art.VIII). In a more strictly sense human dignity is defined as the respect of the human person by negating to the governments and to any other entity the faculty to inflict physical and psychological pain and humiliation. In a more large way, human dignity refers to the possibility for every human being to have a free and dignified life and that implies the capacity to provide for themselves and for their families. This concept is more explicit in the 3rd amendment of the Italian Constitution which states “all citizens are the same in front of the law and all citizens have equal social dignity”; the Italian Constitution also connects the recognized right to social dignity to the right to work and to be paid fairly; in its 36 amendment it is stated “any job must remunerate any worker enough to allows them to provide to themselves and their families a free and dignified life” (Italian Const. Art.3, art. 36) , That means that the remuneration should be sufficient and consistent with the quality of the job and that that connects to the Equity theory where salary is an incentive to work. The definition of dignity as strictly related to the natural rights provided by Mea & Sim (2019) connects with the idea that humans need motivation to truly realize themselves. Realizing themselves in life as a person is by extension a right derived from the right to dignity, in fact, the United States Declaration of Independence states that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are inalienable rights given to any man by God. The men created in the image of God have the natural right to be treated with dignity. And the “pursue of happiness” is a clear reference to the inner motivation for every human being to reach happiness according to their own aspirations and desires. Those are motivations that give the necessary straight, courage, and enthusiasm to endure difficulties and challenges and keep working diligently toward one’s goal. This same motivational concept, which is clearly necessary to realize fully the human dignity and the pursuit of happiness it’s also manifest in the famous expression of the “American dream”.

Why do we talk of the American dream? It’s because the United States of America offer the opportunities necessary to realize the aspiration of humans (Sowell, 2011). That is why exists an American dream but it does not exist as a Cambodian dream or a Pakistani dream. That is because unfortunately, poor countries do not offer the necessary economical conditions to create the opportunities for people to realize their dreams, and consequently to act through motivation. The connection between human dignity as coming from natural rights and motivation from the motivational theory is clear in fact, we can conclude that dignity proceeds from the natural rights.  At the same time we see that dignity allows the pursue of happiness, which can be reached through motivation in presence of opportunities. The last connection between inner motivation and opportunities can be made evident with a simple question: How is it possible to have an inner motivation if the opportunities are not there? Or in other words, if there is no way to reach one’s goal because of the total absence of opportunities, then there can be no motivation. Why do every year millions of people leave poor or socialist countries to reach the shores of the United States of America or Europe? Most of those people literally risk their lives to reach a better situation! This is the factual manifestation of this connection between natural rights as an expression of human dignity and motivation. In fact, those immigrants travel to reach countries where to find opportunities which are the sine qua non condition to realize their goals. That is exactly the reason why former President Obama called the Mexican minor immigrants to America “dreamers”: it’s because it relates again to the American dream which can be reached only in a country that offers opportunities to realize themselves through motivation. And the motivation itself cannot exist in absence of opportunities. After connecting the Mea & Sims definition of human dignity with the Motivational theory I will conclude my introduction by summarizing briefly the organization of my paper: I will give a fast definition of the most important theories and explain why I agree with some and I disagree others. Then I will connect the theories I choose with the legislation of the United States and other countries and I will finally connect to the Biblical teaching.

Ethical and Legal Foundation

I cannot choose one theory because most of them are so strictly intertwined with each other that I need to choose more than one end to explain the reason for my choice. I would immediately exclude the Behaviorism Theory because I believe is overrated and unfounded. Many experiments conducted on twins separated at birth and grown in totally different environments show that humans are not totally the results of their experience. That would be equal to saying that children are clean slates arriving in this world with no background at all, which contradicts the Christian concept of the existence of the soul. I don’t believe in this materialistic theory and so I exclude it. I will also exclude the JCM theory and the goal-setting theory not because I think they are wrong but because I think they are marginal.

The need-hierarchy theory, the theory x – y, and the Equity theory are all true and they cover different areas. In the need-hierarchy theory, Maslow explains and talks about the needs of humans (and dignity is one of those needs), the x-y theory explains and talks about the different kinds of environments where those human needs can be (or cannot be) satisfied and lastly, the Equity Theory connects the other two theories by showing how the needs can be satisfied in a way that is fair (being fairness another human needs).

The need-hierarchy is very straightforward and just shows the needs of humans in order of importance, represented in the famous pyramid of Maslow. The interesting thing about this classification is that the needs of humans are divided into two groups: the physiological needs and the spiritual/psychological needs, which can be surely reconducted to the bible with the sentence “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Maslow’s needs hierarchy theory also states that men cannot focus on pursuing their spiritual needs if before don’t satisfy the physiological needs necessary to keep them safe and alive. That is exactly the reason why all tyrants do their best to impoverish and keep the people in poverty: because when men are struggling to satisfy basic survival needs don’t have the time to understand their misery and figure out (and implement) a strategy to pursue they God-given right to freedom, dignity, and self-actualization (Service, 2007). Tyrants are fraudsters and as fraudsters and evil men they use fraud and coercion to control and take advantage of other men’s lives (Macchiavelli, 2021). The connection is in the fact that in theory X-Y, the worker’s behavior called X manifest when the physiological needs aren’t satisfied, instead the worker’s behavior Y manifest when the basic needs are satisfied and so the workers are free from fear of losing their livelihood and can proceed to pursue motivation and self-actualization in their work.

Theory X describes workers as some kind of passive individuals not interested in self-actualization and so refusing any responsibility and who value the most the security of their jobs (Cafferky, 2017). These are no the characteristics of the workers as individuals, but are simply the attitudes any worker would assume in the presence of harsh environmental circumstances. In other words, even if it is true that all individuals want to feel proud of their job, it is also true that in poor countries where losing a job can escalate very fast into a situation of homelessness, job security became paramount and everything else acquires secondary importance. In absence of opportunities, when you lose a job you are probably not going to find another one and so it can be challenging to keep you and your family safe and alive. In such circumstances, every single human on the planet would switch on worker theory x behavior, which for simplicity
I call “survival mode”. Only when you can express yourself without fear you do have a chance at self-actualization and you can give your contribution to the company by switching to behavior Y theory. How can someone contribute in freedom and take responsibilities when any opinion can be disagreed upon and carrying the possibility to fail, being disliked and losing such a job? And when losing your job means losing the opportunity to have food and shelter for you and your children? When you are in such extreme situations you want to stay “under the radar” because you cannot risk losing the only source of subsistence you may ever have. Poor desperate people living in particularly hostile environments will never assume a theory Y behavior but not necessarily because they are not able to do so, but because they simply cannot afford it. These kinds of environments where it is so very hard to satisfy the basic physiological needs eliminate completely the dignity of humans. It is plenty of studies showing that in war zones prostitution activity increases exponentially. Most women don’t want to prostitute themselves but in front of the perspective of not being able to provide for their children, they really don’t have a choice. In absence of the possibility to satisfy quite easily the basic physiological needs, there is no human dignity, because there is no freedom. Slavery can manifest in being physically deprived of liberty or it can manifest with the invisible chains of extreme poverty (Marx & Engels, 2021) in absence of opportunities. This is a form of slavery and in absence of freedom, human dignity is not possible.

If we analyze the worker theory Y behavior we noticed that is typical of relatively rich countries like the United States because in presence of opportunities the worker can be pretty relaxed in taking on responsibilities and in expressing their opinion freely in the attempt to give their contribution. Taking responsibilities and trying to contribute by expressing opinions always presuppose some degree of risk but the American workers know they can easily find another job and so they take on those risks with peace of mind. When instead the workers have one chance only and if they lose it they die, they feel paralyzed. And so enter enter into survival mode and  assume the theory X worker behavior. If you notice Mexicans tend to assume the X theory worker behavior but it’s not because they cannot assume Theory X worker behavior, it’s because being often illegal they know even too well that they cannot afford to attract the attention or take  risks.

Finally the last of the three theories I have connected is the Equity Theory because this theory provides the legal solution that can be implemented to solve the problems shown in the first theories. According to this theory, the workers work better in presence of fairness which makes a lot of sense because more fairness makes the job more secure. First of all, with fairness comes also a right compensation for the job done and in a second instance in presence of fairness is difficult to lose one’s job: if the worker does their duty with diligence he won’t probably lose their job. More security adds to dignity because in absence of security there is fear and fear takes away the dignity from people. Fear pushes people to renounce to their own opinions and principles and accept even humiliating compromises just to avoid the occurrence of what they fear. That is why tyrants keep people in fear: it’s a way to control them by stripping away their liberties and their dignity. Our God is a God of freedom and that is why the Bible says that we have not been given a spirit of fear (Timothy 1:7). 

In order to prevent the loss of dignity through fear and insecurity are necessary at least one of those two circumstances or both: a strong economy that offers opportunities and fairness at work so workers are not fired for superficial reasons. The employers can be fair or not, so we cannot just rely on them, it is necessary to have laws that force employers to act in fairness. In this regards all the laws on right compensation, unlawful termination, and all the legislature which fall under this umbrella including the activity of the Labor Union add to the perspective of better security and  dignity.

In rich countries like the United States (used to be) workers and people have more dignity respect to people living in poor countries because of the security given by the better economy, the opportunities, and the legal protection provided by law. All this make the American workers more confident in reclaiming their rights and in behaving according to Theory-Y. So their behavior and their capacity to protect their dignity are determined by the external circumstances given by the country they live in. And those circumstances are measured and explained by the Maslow hierarchy theory. The equity theory connects with the theory X-Y because it offers a solution: the solution is in the equity, in the justice, in the fairness. And in order to achieve this equity, this justice, and this fairness are necessary the laws that protect the workers.

Picture taken from Cafferky (2017)

Lastly, I would like to point out regarding the picture representing the human dignity-centered framework that solidarity and the common good cannot manifest in a poor country which does not offer opportunities because the competition and the distrusts of the workers between each other would be very higher in consideration of the fact that maintaining their position is of vital importance for them. These extreme survival circumstances lead inevitably to fear and to a back-stabbing behavior. That is also the reason why criminality is rampant in poor environments: it’s because in survival mode people save themselves before caring about the well-being of others. And this is not their fault: it is just the survival instinct that kicks in.

In order for all those positive behaviors such as courage or wisdom to happen and so to allow dignity, people need to have relative peace of mind. This is not possible in poor countries that do not offer opportunities and when the conditions of life are extreme.

Biblical Scripture Examples

Referring to the article of Cafferki there are so many biblical connections with the three theories I have chosen (and that are connected) and I just cannot analyze all of them but I will analyze the ones which look like the most important to me.

First of all the desire for power of Lucifer is not self-actualization because the right to self-actualization is like any other right and must follow a hierarchical rule very common in jurisprudence. This is the general law stating that any right an individual may have cannot infringe on the rights of other individuals. If I have the right to walk where I want, I do not have the same right to wank inside any private property. If I have the right to play music, I do not have the same right to play music at 3 am in a neighborhood where people are sleeping. I can be arrested if I scream “Fire! Fire!” in a cinema theatre crowded with people causing people to panic. The right of anyone must end when the concurrent rights of others begin. So maybe Hitler had the right to run for election and rule Germany back in 1939 but did he have the right to kill the Jews? In other words, even the right of a political leader elected through a fair election has limitations. Lucifer wants to get power not to do his best to help the men and women of the world to achieve eternal life. Lucifer wants the power to destroy the souls of men. Also, Lucifer did not run in an election against God, he just tried to take over the power of God with a coup-d’etait, so Lucifer’s actions act out of legality to begin with. Because of the legal limitation (also contemplated in Natural Rights) the desire for the power of Lucifer does not qualify as the desire for self-actualization.

The reaction of the prodigal son’s brother (Luke 15) shows exactly the desire for fairness represented in the Equity theory.

The Pharaoh’s oppression of Hebrew slaves (Exodus 1-5) shows perfectly the kind of theory-X management and also the behavior of the workers which in a situation of slavery operate in survival mode and they certainly won’t collaborate with the Pharaoh.

Again, Jesus was a reassuring leader who saved a lot of people with his miracles and he even resuscitated the dead. He inspired trust in people and get rid of their fears. When people saw that Jesus saved them from deadly illnesses and he could change circumstances they finally relaxed because Jesus made them feel safe. So they responded to him, they were open! This is theory Y at its best! In order to manifest Theory-Y behavior people need to feel safe, this kind of behavior cannot manifest when people feel scared or threatened and therefore they operate on survival mode. 

Human Dignity-Centered Framework

As I have already stated the framework applies only in presence of the circumstances that offer safety and security where the basic physical needs are satisfied. Those are the premises. The next step is freedom because in the presence of freedom people cannot be humiliated or forced to do what they don’t want to do. Freedom is limited by coercion for example from part of an authoritarian government or can be limited by poverty. Poverty and coercion limit freedom.

So I would say that the Human Dignity-Centered Framework applies perfectly only in the presence of the assumption that we are operating inside a free and rich country (like the United States used to be). In absence of possible retaliation from part of a tyrannical government or company management) and in presence of abundance, so poverty cannot happen, the framework applies.

To give some examples we can say that in a Communist country like North Korea or Cuba the framework cannot happen because in slavery people are stripped of every dignity. The same is to say for every company operating inside a Communist country because everything you do or say will be reported to the government. What kind of dignity the workers can have where they are nothing but puppets without the right to express dissent? Obviously, all other parameters such as solidarity, common good, and so on do not apply here because people are forced to lie and operate in survival mode. There cannot be any of those things when there is distrust and there is distrust when anyone can be sent to prison because they don’t hold the “right opinion”.

Another thing that eliminates dignity  is equality. That is because equality is the opposite of freedom and they are two mutually exclusive concepts. (Sowell, 2011). That happens because humans are unique and different from each others and have different talents and predispositions. Because of these differences among humans, equality cannot happen unless is forced on the people through coercion. But by doing so the people are deprived of their freedom and there is no human dignity in slavery. This is the very reason why Communism fails over and over again: it is because it is impossible making a population equal without taking away their freedom. And the lack of freedom is an unnatural condition for humans because of their divine resemblance with God.


Cafferky, M.E. (2017). Management & leadership theories in scripture narratives: an editor’s outline of opportunitis for further studies. JBIB, 20(2), 78-85.

Italian Constitution, art.III, art. XXXVI

King James Version (2019). Genesis 1:27

King James Version (2019). Matthew 4:4.

King James Version (2019).

Macchiavelli, N. (2021). Il Principe. Coppell Press.

Marx, K. & Engel, F. (2021). The communist manifesto. International Publishers.

Mea, J. M. & Sims, R.R. (2018). Human dignity-centered business ethics: A conceptual framework for business leaders. Journal of Business Ethics, 160(1), 53-69. DOI: 1- .1007/s10551-018-3929-8

Service, R. (2007). Comrades! A history of world communism. Harvard University Press.

Smith, A. (2003). The wealth of Nations. Bantam Books.

Sowell, T. (2011). Basic economics: A common sense guide to economy. Basic Books.

U.S. Constitution. Art. VIII

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