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Advanced Introduction to Human Dignity and Law

James R. May Erin Daly

This thought-provoking introduction provides an incisive overview of dignity law, a field of law emerging in every region of the globe that touches all significant aspects of the human experience. Through an examination of the burgeoning case law in this area, James R. May and Erin Daly reveal a strong overlapping consensus surrounding the meaning of human dignity as a legal right and a fundamental value of nations large and small, and how this global jurisprudence is redefining the relationship between individuals and the state.
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The life of the mind: intellectual and emotional integrity

James R. May Erin Daly


The human capacity for rational thinking and for ethical behavior has been the most influential justification for human dignity as it distinguishes humanity from other living and sentient beings on earth. Human mental capacity is also dignity’s driving force: it is what enables and compels human beings to plan their lives and to fully develop their personality according to the dictates of their own conscience. This capacity is both intellectual and emotional, entailing both thinking and feeling and courts have sought to protect both of these dimensions.

In this chapter, we explore cases that address this aspect of the human personality. First, we look at the need to nurture intellectual capacity through education and information – particularly relevant in this information age. Then we consider how people use their minds to communicate ideas and information through speech and association. This aspect of dignity fuses the internal, mental dimension with its associative and communal aspect, revealing that rational capacity is not only an internal trait but one that is expressed in the social communities to which people belong. The third category of cases shows society to have a dark side that can impinge on a person’s dignity just as easily as it can nurture it, or perhaps even more so. In the last set of cases, courts consider how people can protect their dignity from assaults, whether informational, emotional or physical, and from sources both public or private, ranging from defamatory statements that harm a person’s reputation or social standing...

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