Human dignity, then, exists as the operative norm of human action before it exists as an explicit concept produced through human reflection. This is especially obvious given the fact that talk of “human dignity” in precisely those terms has an identifiable history; as Lonergan rightly notes, concepts have dates. Had the concept of human dignity never arisen in human societies, we would nonetheless still be performing our dignity in treating ourselves as an end and not a means; we would still treat ourselves with such dignity! (Though, sadly, we would still be failing to consistently treat others in this way.) What is foundational here, therefore, is not concepts or ideas but performance, or operations, which are the true a priori at the root of human cognitional and volitional activity.
This turn to our interiority reveals that we spontaneously, in each and every choice, treat ourselves as an end and not a means, precisely because we seek our own happiness. This desire for our flourishing as an end is the structure of our every conscious choice whether we ever come to knowledge of it or not (in fact, most never will). But that it is true can be verified by any individual, simply by asking questions of his or her own choices and thereby seeking to uncover the intelligibility of those choices in attending to the conscious process that brought them about.
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