Dignity as an Expressive Norm: Neither Vacuous Nor a Panacea

Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, pp. 1–19, 2011

27 Pages Posted: 22 Apr 2011 Last revised: 28 Sep 2011

Tarunabh Khaitan

University of Oxford - Faculty of Law; University of California, Berkeley - Berkeley Comparative Equality & Anti-Discrimination Law Study Group; The University of Melbourne - Law School

Date Written: March 25, 2011

Abstract

Proponents of dignity see it as a useful tool which solves the most important (if not all) of the practical and theoretical problems in human rights law. Arguing against this sympathetic position on the other side of the debate are the sceptics, who have raised troubling questions about dignity’s alleged indeterminacy, as well as about the illiberal role that it has allegedly played in certain contexts. In this paper, I argue that designing a defensible and useful conception of dignity which is distinguishable from other values such as equality and autonomy may be possible, but not without addressing some genuine infirmities that the critics have pointed out. If there is indeed such a conception of dignity, it is likely to be "expressive" in character. I therefore argue that the legal ideal of dignity is best understood as an expressive norm: whether an act disrespects someone’s dignity depends on the meaning that such act expresses, rather than its consequences or any other attribute of that act.

Keywords: dignity, expressivism

Suggested Citation

Khaitan, Tarunabh, Dignity as an Expressive Norm: Neither Vacuous Nor a Panacea (March 25, 2011). Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, pp. 1–19, 2011. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1813925

Tarunabh Khaitan (Contact Author)

University of Oxford - Faculty of Law ( email )

St. Cross Building
St. Cross Road
Oxford, OX1 3UJ
United Kingdom

University of California, Berkeley - Berkeley Comparative Equality & Anti-Discrimination Law Study Group

Boalt Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720-7200
United States

The University of Melbourne - Law School ( email )

University Square
185 Pelham Street, Carlton
Victoria, Victoria 3010
Australia

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