Let $\mathfrak{g}$ be a semisimple Lie algebra (say over $\mathbb{C}$) and $\mathfrak{h} \subset \mathfrak{g}$ a Cartan subalgebra. All the references I have seen which study the representation theory of $\mathfrak{g}$ in detail make use of the half-sum of positive roots, which is an element of $\mathfrak{h}^$: \mathfrak{h}^\ast$: e.g. Gaitsgory's notes on the category O introduce the "dotted action" of the Weyl group on$\mathfrak{h}^$, \mathfrak{h}^\ast$, the definition of which involves this half-sum.