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Till Human Voices Wake Us

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The Role of Emotions in the Adjudication of Dignity Claims

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The present paper is concerned with the role emotions play with respect to evaluative legal concepts, a class of concepts that require judges to interpret values in their application of the law. The paper focuses on the legal concept of human dignity, a central concept in international human rights law and in the constitutional practice of many states. Nearly every article or book written on the concept of human dignity begins by noting its resonance and the power of its promise. The affective dimension of the concept is, however, soon set aside by most scholars and legal practitioners in order to work out the term’s content. Against this trend, the paper explores the affective dimensions of the legal concept of human dignity.Situated in the field of comparative human rights, the paper examines the various roles emotions play in judicial interpretations of the concept of human dignity in human rights and constitutional law. The paper begins by offering a working definition of emotion before setting out the challenge to legal theory and practice posed by evaluative legal concepts. It then sketches out the landscape of dignity jurisprudence and various key sites for the study of emotion. The paper then develops a typology of roles that emotions play in judicial interpretations of the legal concept of human dignity. The three roles that emotions play, orientation, tracker, and service, draw upon the unique features of emotions to enliven and direct judicial understandings of the concept. Emotions fulfill orientation roles when they imbue a concept with their own meaning, tracker roles when they react to the subject matter of the concept, and service roles when they guide the use of the concept. Each role contributes an additional layer of meaning to the concept by lending structure, and often a sense of importance and clarity, to judicial interpretations of human dignity.

Affiliations: 1: j.s.d. Candidate, New York University School of Law, New York, ny, USA, emily.white@law.nyu.edu

10.1163/22124810-00303001
/content/journals/10.1163/22124810-00303001
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/content/journals/10.1163/22124810-00303001
2014-08-12
2017-11-22

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