Dignity: What Does It Mean?

According to many understandings of human rights, all people are born free and with dignity. We often speak of dignity as something that should be protected and respected. However, when prompted, you’ll be hard-pressed to come up with a true definition of dignity. What is dignity? Does everyone have the same amount of dignity? Can someone ever do something to lose their dignity?

These are just a few of the difficult questions that students tackled during last week’s Keyword Colloquium on “Dignity” led by Dr. Bryan Pilkington, interdisciplinary philosopher and Director of Academic Programs at Fordham’s Center for Ethics Education.


Dr. Pilkington (2nd from left) leads an engaging colloquium on “Dignity” with Manresa Scholars.

Dr. Pilkington described the hypothetical case of a patient suffering from cardiac issues who is then also diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. Without taking these medications, the patient would almost certainly suffer a fatal cardiac event soon after stopping them.

The patient could potentially stop taking his or her heart medicine to avoid living an “undignified” life with dementia. Dr. Pilkington got Manresa Scholars thinking by posing the question — is it morally acceptable to seek your own death, and by doing so are you acting with or without dignity?

He discussed the three viewpoints. The first view is that someone should stop taking the heart medicine and seek death to avoid falling into an “undignified” dementia. The second view is that one should continue to take the heart medicine because seeking your own death is a violation of dignity. The third group provides what Dr. Pilkington considered the best answer: allow the patient to make his or her own decision about what they feel is right for their life and body; that is, “dignity” is relative to individual patients.

Manresa Scholars split into small groups to discuss similar cases and attempt to create a working definition of “dignity.” Some Scholars suggested that people can never lose their dignity while others argued that dignity can be taken away by outside circumstances outside of one’s control.

While there were no definitive conclusions by the end of the dinner-colloquium, Manresa Scholars grappled with some difficult questions and utilized the critical thinking skills they’ve been developing all year.

Anja Asato, FCRH 2018
Manresa Programming & Marketing Fellow, 2016-2017

Seminar Spotlight: The Lost Interlocutor

Manresa Scholars in The Lost Interlocutor Seminar spent the past semester investigating the themes of existence, knowledge, truth, morality, and beliefs. The course taught by Manresa Faculty Director and FCRH Freshman Dean, Dr. Robert Parmach, stresses critical spoken dialogue and writing. The skills and material the Scholars learn come together at interactive out-of-class events, such as the Interlocutor Fallacy Night.

Manresa Scholar Nick Swope reflects on his experience.

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Dean Parmach facilitates a discussion on intersections between the semester’s Manresa Seminars.

Coming from a public high school, I had never taken a philosophy course. My Manresa Seminar has opened my eyes to a whole new way of thinking. I now examine the world around me in a more thorough manner, asking the questions of why and how instead of who and what. Some of the main themes we discussed include avoiding sloppy thinking, Eloquentia Perfecta techniques, the meaning of relationships, the relationship between the physical and metaphysical world, and nature of the mind, among others.

One Manresa program I found particularly meaningful was the Interlocutor Fallacy Night.

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Scholar Nick Swope presents his insights at the Manresa Showcase.

As part of the program, we learned about different types of logical fallacies and picked some out of different video clips. This really opened my eyes to how often people misuse logic to make an argument, especially when they do not have a strong one. As a young adult, I find this most relevant during the recent presidential election, in which I was a first-time voter.

In an election focused more on the candidates’ character than the issues concerning our country, I believe it is important to critically examine each candidate’s argument to determine which, if either, is making a strong case as to why they should be our next Commander-in-Chief. After seeing so many logical fallacies in a short clip, I realized how important it is to critically examine people’s arguments to make sure they are cogent and truthful.

A concept that has been heavily emphasized in our Manresa Philosophy class, and I believe is valuable for all young adults to study at a Jesuit institution, is Eloquentia Perfecta. This skill is defined as developing critical reading, writing, and speaking skills to make cogent arguments and be able to defend them under intense scrutiny. This is practiced every class through discussions, as everyone contributing is expected to have adequate defense for his or her claims.

For one assignment, we teamed up with a partner to do an Eloquentia Perfecta presentation based on an assigned reading. Pairs presented over the course of the semester and after each presentation, Dean Parmach emailed the entire class as to what the presenters did well and what they need to improve on, so that everyone could learn from each other’s mistakes in a supportive environment. I had an enlightening experience in my Manresa course and am looking forward to continuing my involvement next semester.


Philosophical Psych-Outs: Practical Eloquence Techniques

This past week, students from Prof. Parmach’s Philosophy class and Prof. Annunziato’s Psychology class participated in Philosophical Psych-Outs: Practical EP Techniques. Eloquentia Perfecta (EP) is a Jesuit tenet meaning “right reason expressed effectively, responsibly, and gracefully.” The purpose of the event was to show how Eloquentia Perfecta is one lens through which we develop as students in the Jesuit tradition.

The program started with an exercise that involved writing a poem that included the following information: your full name, nickname, three hobbies, four traits, and a life quote. Each Manresa Scholar  presented his or her poem on stage, and we were asked if it was uncomfortable to us. The exercise demonstrated the classical Greek model in which public speaking permeates daily life. Speech permeates who you are. 

Even if we don’t feel like public speaking “pros” just yet, our public speaking skills will improve over time with practice and preparation. Speeches do not always take place on a stage, or in front of an audience. They can take place in many different forms. We practice public speaking with family, in religion, in our civic life, and in business. There is a variety in the types of speeches that can be made, whether they are analytical, persuasive, or argumentative.

We discussed the importance of the public speaking acronym SPATE (stance, poise, articulation, tone, and eye contact). Following SPATE helps you to be more effective and affective at public speaking. Effective speaking means that your argument is clear. Affective means that it is impactful and meaningful.  We discussed the ancient Greek statesman and orator Demosthenes and his methods. In order to improve his skills, Demosthenes would recite things with a rock in his mouth. Inspired by Demosthenes’ methodology, three brave students volunteered to recite the Pledge of Allegiance with a mouth full of gumballs.


In another exercise, one student had to direct another to unscrew an Oreo cookie and eat off the icing. Once the exercise started, the class realized this seemingly easy task was much more difficult than imagined. The student giving directions was not allowed to start over if they made a mistake. This was difficult because we tend to speak vaguely, and only when we realize that confusions arise do we go into more detail.

Next, we read a selection from Aristotle’s Rhetoric, which discusses the art of persuasion, which is necessary for effective and affective speech. In groups, we read through magazines and discussed whether or not we thought the articles were effective and/or affective. At the end, we were asked what concrete steps we as students will take to be both effective and affective speakers. 

One of Aristotle’s famous maxims is: “Seldom deny, rarely affirm, always distinguish.” Through this program, Manresa Scholars strengthened their Eloquentia Perfecta skills of making proper distinctions while speaking.

Brooke Evans, FCRH 2020
Manresa Scholar

A Night of Clarity

Last Thursday night, a group of 17 Manresa Scholars, dressed in formal attire, met in the Ph.D. defense room in Duane Library. The meeting marked the culmination of the students’ Philosophy of Human Nature course as part of the Manresa Scholars Program. The class met outside of the classroom several times throughout the semester for guest lectures and joint programs with other classes; however, this final program, named A Night of Clarity, gave the students the stage.

During the program, four groups of students presented and defended original philosophical responses that incorporated various course themes studied throughout the semester. The responses attempted to present and cogently argue relevant applications of the course material outside of the classroom, specifically among the Millennial Generation. Four judges, including Dr. Robert Parmach, Freshman Dean and professor of the course, and Ms. Danielle O’Boyle, Assistant District Attorney for New York State, offered constructive criticism of each group’s presentation.

My group argued that students of this course are prepared to address and avoid the traps many other members of the Millennial Generation have fallen into, such as laziness and entitlement due to the modern convenience and prevalence of the Internet and social media. We argued that we, as well as all Manresa Scholars, are capable of creating concrete, practical progress in the world.

As Manresa Scholars, my peers and I strive to continually learn in and out of the classroom, as exhibited by our dedication to excellence in out-of-class programs. It is not sufficient to simply fulfill the curriculum; rather, Manresa Scholars strive to embody and practice their knowledge constantly.

Lucas Baker, GSB 2019
Manresa Scholar, 2015-2016

Words of Wisdom from Tutor Ryan

Manresa Scholars,

Many of you may question the merits of taking classes in the humanities when parents and the media often place so much emphasis upon the hard sciences and swollen bank accounts. After all, the earning potential for the latter is seemingly greater than that of the former, but I posit to you that the benefits you gain from studying the humanities will outweigh your future lack of money.

Below you will find an article entitled “Why Are Hundreds of Harvard Students Studying Ancient Chinese Philosophy?” I hope that this piece will enlighten those of you that dismiss the study of subjects such as English, History and Philosophy as merely a waste of time, as well as allow you to see that the value of a class need not lie in its potential for career advancement. I also hope that Fordham College at Rose Hill and Gabelli School of Business students alike will realize the importance of the humanities within their core classes.

Ryan Gilligan, FCRH 2015  |  Manresa Student Tutor


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