David Luban argues in this lecture that the moral foundation of the lawyer’s profession lies in the defense of human dignity—and the chief moral danger facing the profession arises when lawyers assault human dignity rather than defend it. The concept of human dignity has a rich philosophical tradition, with some philosophers identifying human dignity as a metaphysical property of individuals—a property such as having a soul, or possessing autonomy. Luban argues instead that human dignity is a relational property of “the dignifier” and “the dignified,” emphasizing that assaulting human dignity humiliates the victim. Lawyers honor the human dignity of others by protecting them against humiliations, and defile that dignity by subjecting them to humiliations. The lecture develops these ideas through four traditional issues in legal ethics: the right of criminal defendants to an advocate, the duty of confidentiality, paternalism of attorneys toward their clients, and pro bono service.
The full text of this Lecture is available to download as a PDF.