Dissertation Title: The Role of Emotions in the Adjudication of Dignity Claims

Doctoral Supervisor: Professor Jeremy Waldron


Emily Kidd White is a JSD candidate from Canada, an IAHD Fellow, and a Trudeau Foundation Scholar. In 2006 she earned her LLB at Queen’s Law School after having previously graduated from Queen’s University in politics and philosophy. After two years of litigation practice in Toronto, Emily entered the International Legal Studies LLM program at New York University School of Law. She graduated from this program in 2009 with the Jerome Lipper Prize for distinction. From 2009-2011, Emily held a research fellowship at the Jean Monnet Center for Regional and International Economic Law and Justice at New York University School of Law. During this time, Emily served as the Associate Editor of the European Journal of International Law and also as the teaching assistant for the Institute for International Law and Justice. 

Emily’s areas of interest are in legal theory, international law and comparative human rights. Her JSD project draws upon the philosophy of emotion to examine judicial reasoning in human rights and constitutional cases that involve dignity claims.


Emily is interested in the public nature of law and she examines this question from a number of angles. One particular focus is on how political communities interpret the values embedded in legal texts, and the manners in which they sometimes draw upon local, regional, or international experiences to provide these values with shape and clarity. As a doctoral student Emily has developed an analytical approach to the study of dignity jurisprudence that addresses a gap in the theory and practice of constitutional and human rights law concerning the role of emotions in judicial understandings of a rights infringement.

At the intersection of constitutional law, comparative and international human rights law, and legal theory, Emily's doctoral research draws upon the philosophy of emotion to provide a novel set of tools to analyze a number of recurring questions about the legal concept of human dignity. It focuses in particular on a number of jurisdictions where human dignity acts as a constitutional value intended to guide judicial interpretations of rights in the context of their violation. It analyzes the myriad ways emotions work to capture the attention of the presiding judge or judicial panel, the ways they lend a particular resonance or tone to the object of law’s protection, and the manners in which judges sometimes draw on particular emotions, like courage or empathy, to put themselves into a position to analyze a case and its evidence in line with professed legal values.

Peer-Review Publication

Emily Kidd White, “Till Human Voices Wake Us: The Role of Emotion in the Adjudication of Dignity Claims” Journal of Law, Religion and State 3 (2014) 201-239. 

Emily Kidd White, “There is No Such Thing as a Right to Human Dignity: A Reply to Conor O’Mahoney”, Int J Constitutional Law (2012) 10 (2): 575-584.

Emily Kidd White, “Humanity as the A and Ω of Sovereignty: Four Replies to Anne Peters” Eur J Int Law (2009) 20(3): 545-549. Available online at: http://ejil.oxfordjournals.org/content/20/3/545.full.

Emily Kidd White, “Human Dignity in Canadian Constitutional Law”, Richard Albert, Vanessa MacDonnell, and Paul Daly (eds.), Canada at 150: New Frontiers in Constitutional Law (forthcoming, University of Toronto Press, 2017).  

Conference Organization and Presentation

"Emotions, and the Politics of Attention in Legal Reasoning", inaugural PULSE (Public International Law at LSE) lecture, LSE Department of Law (January, 2017).

"The Legal Concept of Human Dignity in the Adjudication of Rights", paper presented at the International Academia on Human Dignity, Bielefeld, Germany (August, 2016).

"It's All Dark Pupil: On the Role of Emotions in Equality Law", paper presented at the Oxford Jurisprudence Discussion Group (JDG), Balliol College, Oxford University (June 9, 2016).

"Dignity in Discrimination Law: Empathy and Pity in the Canadian and South African Jurisprudence", paper presented at the New York University School of Law J.S.D. Forum (April 22, 2016). Commentator: Professor Samuel Scheffler

"Human Dignity in Canadian Constitutional Law", paper presented at Canada at 150: New Frontiers in Constitutional Law, Yale (December 15, 2015). 

"Three Questions about Pity and Empathy in Judicial Reasoning", paper presented at the Compassion and Legal Reasoning Multidisciplinary Workshop at the XXVII World Congress of the International Association for the Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy (IVR), Washington, (July 27-31, 2015).

"'An Unbearable Pity for the Suffering of Mankind': Compassion in the Adjudication of Human Dignity Claims", paper presented at the International Society of Public Law Conference (ICON-S), New York University School of Law, (July 1-3, 2015).

"Emotions in Dignity Jurisprudence"paper presented at the Law and Emotions in Comparative Perspective Conference at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University (April, 2014).

"Till Human Voices Wake Us: A Typology of Emotions in Dignity Jurisprudence", paper presented at the New York University School of Law JSD Forum (October, 2013). Commentator: Professor Moshe Halbertal.

"On the Edge of Reason: Studying Emotions in Adjudication", paper presented at the Canadian, Australian, and New Zealand Law and Society Conference convened at UBC Law School (July, 2013).

"Probing the Productive Possibility of Pity in the Law", paper presented at the Ontario Legal Philosophy Partnership Graduate Conference at Osgoode Law School (May, 2013).

"A Role of Emotion’s Own: How Emotions Help us Understand and Evaluate Human Dignity Jurisprudence", paper presented at the New York University School of Law JSD Forum (April, 2013). Commentator: Professor Avishai Margalit.

"The Role of Pity in International Law", paper presented at The Passions of International Law Symposium at Melbourne Law School (September, 2012). Funding for travel supplied by the Australian Research Council Discovery Project Grant.

"The Tragedy Before Our Eyes: Human Dignity and Emotion in Judicial Interpretation", paper presented at the New York University School of Law JSD Forum (February, 2012). Commentator: Professor Thomas Nagel.

"Passion and Persuasion in the Law", paper presented at the Yale Law School Doctoral Conference, Continuity and Change: 
Interrogating the Dynamics of Law and Transformation (December, 2011).

The Interpretation of Treaties - A Re-Examination convened by the European Journal of International Law. European University Institute in Florence, Italy (November, 2009). Conference Organizer and Symposium Editor for the Journal.

Emily's Bookshelf: