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Faculty of Law Chair Mahlmann


Mahlmann Seminar Information (PDF, 116 KB)

The seminar deals with the legal concept of "dignity". This concept has become a fundamental concept of constitutional systems and international law. At the same time, it is a key concept in ethics and politics.

As a legal concept, "dignity" has a long history. However, it only found its way into positive law on a broad basis in the 20th century. In the period after 1945, it then became a constitutive part of an epochal legal vision.

The concept of dignity raises fundamental questions: How have ideas of a specific intrinsic value of human beings, which we today call dignity, developed historically? Why do we ascribe dignity to people? Which human characteristics are relevant here? What claim to universality can this concept make? Is dignity limited to human beings or can it also be extended to other living beings? What exactly is the content of ethical and legal guarantees of dignity? How is dignity guaranteed in national and international law? How are national and international guarantees of dignity interpreted by courts? What concrete legal consequences result from dignity as a legal concept, for example in problem areas such as the death penalty, abortion, torture, prostitution or protection against discrimination? What role does dignity play in the legitimisation of democracy? What significance does this concept have not only in times of peace, but also in times of war, when human dignity is particularly at risk? What new challenges must the conception and interpretation of guarantees of dignity face - from the rights of future generations to artificial intelligence?

The seminar will explore these questions from historical, philosophical and jurisprudential perspectives, emphasising intercultural and comparative law aspects.

The seminar will be held together with Prof. Dr András Sajó, Budapest, former Vice-President of the European Court of Human Rights. The seminar languages are German and English, Bachelor's and Master's theses can be submitted in both languages.

A preliminary meeting will be held in the spring semester 2024.


1. Global history of human dignity
2. Global history of ideas of human dignity
Modern times, in particular natural law
c) Enlightenment, esp. Kant
Philosophical scepticism about dignity - Schopenhauer, Hegel, Nietzsche
e) Human dignity and political progress - from the abolition of slavery to the equality of women

3. Current philosophical and legal theories of human dignity
4. Critique of the concept of human dignity in ethics and law
5. Human dignity in the Federal Constitution
6. Human dignity in the German Basic Law
7. Post-colonial guarantees of human dignity: the constitutions of India and South Africa
8. Human dignity in international law
a) Universal Declaration of Human Rights
c) International law

9. Application problems of human dignity (e.g. torture, death penalty, abortion)
10. Human dignity and the foundations of democracy
11. Human dignity in war
12. New challenges for the concept of human dignity