No where else is the human-animal divide more enthusiastically defended than when someone talks about human dignity. According to advocates of this widespread idea, our “human dignity” captures the exceptional value and status that humans uniquely possess. Not only is it thought to elevate us above other animals, but it acts as the basis for distinctly human rights, as enshrined in several international covenants, and constitutions. In other words, dignity seems to do a lot of work in explaining why we have value above and beyond that which other animals possess.

Animal Dignity - Swan Spreading its wings.
Do animals have dignity? Photo by Matt Perry.

The trouble is that a distinctly human dignity cannot be plausibly justified. I will explain why shortly, before going on to suggest that there is one saving grace: dignity can be made into a far more robust idea – and without giving up too much of what is valuable about it. But the catch is that this is only possible if it includes rather than excludes other animals, such as dogs, pigs, or birds.