Law, Dignity and the Elusive Promise of a Third Way

Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, Forthcoming

Posted: 7 May 2018

Date Written: April 19, 2018


What is law’s relationship to dignity? In Jeremy Waldron’s view, ‘There is an implicit commitment to dignity in the tissues and sinews of law—in the character of its normativity and in its procedures’. Waldron’s account can be read as an attempt to pursue a third way between positivism and natural law. Proponents of the third way believe that law has structural features that are intrinsically valuable. Waldron argues that law’s normativity and procedures promote dignity, and, therefore, are salutary. However, he does not ask whether their moral significance might be affected by the merits of the law’s contents. I raise doubts about Waldron’s approach and, in turn, the third way. I argue that the significance of law’s structural features may be affected by the merits of content. Where the law’s contents are dehumanising, law’s normativity and procedures may make a distinctive contribution to degradation and humiliation.

Suggested Citation

Sempill, Julian, Law, Dignity and the Elusive Promise of a Third Way (April 19, 2018). Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Julian Sempill (Contact Author)

Melbourne Law School ( email )

University Square
185 Pelham Street, Carlton
Victoria, Victoria 3010

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