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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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Towards a democratic theory of dignity

James R. May Erin Daly


Cases in the previous chapters have concerned dignity rights in three contexts: (a) the value of each human being and the human desire for autonomy in the sense of making decisions about the course of one’s own life; (b) intellectual and emotional freedoms and the need to be respected and to maintain integrity in community with others; and (c) the human need to live decently with adequate economic opportunity, food, shelter and health, and in an ecologically sustainable environment.

In this chapter, we see that protecting dignity is important in order to enhance the human condition itself but is also instrumental in building and strengthening participatory democracy. The cases examined here reveal dignity as both a means and an end: participation in governance itself is a manifestation of human dignity (means) and it has the potential to result in policies and programs that enhance the ability of people to live in dignity (ends).

As we have seen, the dignity of belonging is recognized throughout the world. The African concept of ubuntu indicates that we are who we are only through other people. The European and Latin American concept of fraternity suggests that identity, and even dignity, are social. The association of rights and duties in many Asian societies and legal cultures is another example of the nexus between the individual and the community in the construction of identity and dignity. The Islamic view is that “God’s love of man must surely be emulated by men in...

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