Exploitation: Wrongfully Using Persons

Karol Wojtyla

Not Usable Objects

In his book Love and Responsibility, philosopher Karol Wojtyla (Catholic, then seminarian, then deacon, then priest, then philosopher, then bishop, then pope and, finally, saint) teaches “the personalistic norm,” which is an ethical principle for humanizing personal relationships. According to the norm’s negative formulation, “The person is the kind of good which does not admit of use and cannot be treated as an object of use and, as such, the means to an end.”

Not Throw-Away Things

What is Wojtyla’s point? Simply this: I may not use another person like I use clothing, such as a pair of pants or shirt. The value of clothing is instrumental, which is merely a means to an end. When my clothing is worn out or no longer useful to me, I throw it away or dispose of it. Then, in its place, I buy new clothing. However, I should not do that to another human being, because a human is a person, not a thing.

Not Merely Tools

There is a hierarchy (order of importance) of being. In other words, persons are more valuable than things. That is why persons should be loved and things should used rather than using persons as though they were things.

No one, then, ethically speaking, has a right to use you, as if your were merely an instrument or tool. Nor does anyone have the right to use you to the point of wearing you out and tossing you aside, like worn out clothing. Such moral acts violate the dignity or inherent value of a human being; a value that is irreducible, non–negotiable and non-exchangeable, that is, the value of a person.


Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility, trans. H.T. Willetts (San Francisco, CA.: Ignatius Press, 1993), pp. 41, 228.

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