Human Dignity in Adjudication: Mere Placeholding or Beyond?
CONVENORS: Michal Rupniewski, Stephen Riley
Human dignity has been globally recognized as the foundational commitment of legal orders. In recent decades, numerous scholars have taken pains to elucidate the basis, meaning, and normative implications of human dignity which appears in the law as a value, a principle, or a right. The question that remains open, despite all advances in human dignity scholarship, is the following: what are the precise guidelines of applying human dignity in adjudication, and to what extent are they universal? The fact that the concept of human dignity is fuzzy, and open to many competing interpretations, may have facilitated its varied career in adjudication and legal theory. Its variability is also a source of trouble. This is especially clear for judges who strive to consistently and intelligibly apply human dignity in justification of adjudicative decisions. It seems that there are two alternative general approaches. First, human dignity may be understood as a mere ‘evocation’, a ‘non-interpreted thesis’, or an ‘article of faith’. According to this approach, human dignity in adjudication is best understood as a place-holder, that is, an ‘empty’ space which may (or may not) be filled with more concrete content within a legal community. Second, and alternatively, human dignity may be understood as bearing practical consequences or binding rules which are cosmopolitan, and in this sense universal, and should be observed by judges. In order to answer the big question of which of the two approaches is more defensible, the workshop invites discussion of the following kinds of questions (non-exhaustive):
- Which theoretical categories best capture the legal nature of human dignity? Is it best understood as a value, as a right, or as a principle? How might these conceptual or framing questions have significance for adjudication?
- If human dignity is merely a place-holder, what does it precisely mean for adjudication, especially in jurisdictions which contain explicit references to human dignity in their law?
- If human dignity is not a mere place-holder, how do we reconcile between tensions inherent in the very idea? For example, how do we reconcile between protection of autonomy on the one hand, and vulnerability on the other?
- Is there an emerging overlapping consensus on meaning of human dignity in the law? If yes, does this fact provide some basis for going beyond mere place-holding?
- Do different ‘local’ legal uses of human dignity in different legal fields necessary compel us adopt a ‘family resemblance’ approach to human dignity in law? Or are there really different concepts or principles at work in different areas of law?

Dr. Michal Rupniewski, University of Lodz, PL
Dr. Stephen Riley, University of Leicester, UK