How Law Protects Dignity

Jeremy Waldron

New York University School of Law

December 15, 2011

NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 11-83

One way in which law protects dignity is by enforcing human rights provisions that explictly or implicitly involve the protection of dignity or the prevention of degradation. But law's connection with dignity is also much deeper and more pervasive than this. In the way that it operates, in the way that it presents its requirements, in the way law expects its requirements to be taken on board and observed by those to whom the requirements are primarily addressed, in the procedural way that it organizes hearings, in the way that it sponsors argumentation, even in the way that it arranages for coercion - in all these ways, law treats humans as dignified agents, capable of self-control, with a sense of themsleves and their interests, and with the ability to respond intelligently and thoughtfully to its demands. These ideas, which originate with some comments by Lon Fuller, in "The Morality of Law," are developed extensively in the present paper. Of course it is true that law is sometimes brutal and degrading in its application; but the paper argues that it is part of law's inherently aspirational character to deal with human persons as dignified agents, and that this distinguishes legal forms of control from other modes of governance.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 26

Keywords: agency, coercion, dignity, Fuller, legal argument, legal process, normativity, procedures, representation, respect, rights, rule of law

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Date posted: December 17, 2011 ; Last revised: February 8, 2012

Suggested Citation

Waldron, Jeremy, How Law Protects Dignity (December 15, 2011). NYU School of Law, Public Law Research Paper No. 11-83. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1973341 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1973341

Contact Information

Jeremy Waldron (Contact Author)
New York University School of Law ( email )
40 Washington Square South
New York, NY 10012-1099
United States

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