Human Dignity, Self-Worth and Humiliation: A Comparative Legal-Psychological Approach
Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, Vol. 18, No. 1, 2012
71 Pages Posted: 28 Nov 2011 Last revised: 15 Apr 2015
Date Written: 2011
The concept of human dignity is a central concept in many legal systems. Yet the increasing and sometimes excessive use of this concept has generated a number of serious problems which have only recently become clear in empirical research and court rulings showing that the meanings of dignity have become contradictory and can no longer advance human rights protections. This paper offers a way out of the deadlock. We offer an approach which is anchored in the psychology of the self, specifically in the human need for maintaining positive self-worth. We elaborate on what this conceptualization means in terms of violations of dignity, emphasizing dignity’s antonym, humiliation, as well as other closely related aspects of social exclusion, lowering of social status, and denials of recognition more generally. We then demonstrate that this approach has in fact been applied in a range of important legal cases, often establishing constitutional precedents. We illustrate this through a comparative review and analysis of judgments from the United States Supreme Court, the European Court of Human Rights, and the Supreme Court of Israel. We argue that this psychological approach to human dignity can bring logic and consistency back into its meaning and usages.
Keywords: human dignity, self-worth, humiliation, legal interpretation, human rights, therapeutic jurisprudence
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