Baedeker -- Independence. Truth in morals -- External skepticism -- Morals and causes -- Internal skepticism -- Interpretation. Moral responsibility -- Interpretation in general -- Conceptual interpretation -- Ethics. Dignity -- Free will and responsibility -- Morality. From dignity to morality -- Aid -- Harm -- Obligations -- Politics. Political rights and concepts -- Equality -- Liberty -- Democracy -- Law -- Epilogue. Dignity indivisible.
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In 1993, Professor of Jurisprudence, Ronald Dworkin of Oxford University and Professor of Law at New York University, delivered the Georgetown Law Center’s thirteenth Annual Philip A. Hart Memorial Lecture: "Life’s Dominion: An Argument About Abortion and Euthanasia." Dworkin is Professor of Philosophy and Frank Henry Sommer Professor of Law at New York University. He received B.A. degrees from both Harvard College and Oxford University, and an LL.B. from Harvard Law School and clerked for Judge Learned Hand. He was associated (...) with a law firm in New York (Sullivan and Cromwell) and was a professor of law at Yale University Law School from 1962-1969. He has been Professor of Jurisprudence at Oxford and Fellow of University College since 1969. He has a joint appointment at Oxford and at NYU where he is a professor both in the Law School and the Philosophy Department. He is a Fellow of the British Academy and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Professor Dworkin is the author of many articles in philosophical and legal journals as well as articles on legal and political topics in the New York Review of Books. He has written Taking Rights Seriously (1977), A Matter of Principle (1985), Law’s Empire (1986), Philosophical Issues in Senile Dementia (1987), A Bill of Rights for Britain (1990), Life’s Dominion (1993), and Freedom’s Law (1996). (shrink)
Politics in America are polarized and trivialized, perhaps as never before. In Congress, the media, and academic debate, opponents from right and left, the Red and the Blue, struggle against one another as if politics were contact sports played to the shouts of cheerleaders. The result, Ronald Dworkin writes, is a deeply depressing political culture, as ill equipped for the perennial challenge of achieving social justice as for the emerging threats of terrorism. Can the hope for change be realized? Dworkin, (...) one the world's leading legal and political philosophers, identifies and defends core principles of personal and political morality that all citizens can share. He shows that recognizing such shared principles can make substantial political argument possible and help replace contempt with mutual respect. Only then can the full promise of democracy be realized in America and elsewhere. Dworkin lays out two core principles that citizens should share: first, that each human life is intrinsically and equally valuable and, second, that each person has an inalienable personal responsibility for identifying and realizing value in his or her own life. He then shows what fidelity to these principles would mean for human rights, the place of religion in public life, economic justice, and the character and value of democracy. Dworkin argues that liberal conclusions flow most naturally from these principles. Properly understood, they collide with the ambitions of religious conservatives, contemporary American tax and social policy, and much of the War on Terror. But his more basic aim is to convince Americans of all political stripes--as well as citizens of other nations with similar cultures--that they can and must defend their own convictions through their own interpretations of these shared values. (shrink)
Professor Narveson's comments about my papers on equality are both penetrating and comprehensive. I cannot hope to discuss all the issues he raises in any detail. But there is a special problem: his main question is about what I have not said. He asks how I might defend equality of resources other than simply by describing a version of it, and of course this question will require some extended discussion. But he is right to say that this is his most (...) important question, and I should hate to lose the opportunity of encouraging discussion of it. So I shall begin with some general remarks about the defence of the idea of equality and then take up, in a very hasty and summary way, the other problems he discusses or raises. Please allow me, however, this apology and caution. I know that what I shall say about the defense of equality is at many points dogmatic and at others unmindful of very natural objections and replies. I want to answer Narveson only by showing in a rough and general way how far I think a defense of equality is possible, what kind of defense this can be, and what form it should take. (shrink)
"The Constitution is America's moral sail, and we must hold to the courage of the conviction that fills it, a conviction that we can all be equal citizens of a moral republic. That is a noble faith, and only optimism can redeem it." So writes Ronald Dworkin in the introduction to this characteristically robust and provocative new book in which Dworkin argues the fidelity to the constitution and to law demands that judges make contemporary judgements backed on political morality, and (...) why it encourages, or ought to encourage, an open display of the true grounds of judgement. The book discusses almost all of the great constitutional issues of the last two decades including abortion, affirmative action, pornography, race, homosexuality, euthanasia and free-speech and in doing so consistently offers a liberal view of the American Constitution. Dworkin's "moral reading" proposes that we all, judges, lawyers, citizens - interpret and apply the abstract language of the Constitution on the understanding that they invoke moral principles about political decency and justice. The "moral reading" therefore brings political morality into the heart of constitutional law. The various chapters of this book were first published seperately; now drawn together they bear all the hallmarks of Dworkin's legal and philosophical sophistication, his acute understanding of political process and his understanding of history. principles. (shrink)
Written by the world's best-known political and legal theorist, Freedom's Law: The Moral Reading of the American Constitution is a collection of essays that discuss almost all of the great constitutional issues of the last two decades, including abortion, euthanasia, capital punishment, homosexuality, pornography, and free speech. Professor Dworkin offers a consistently liberal view of the Constitution and argues that fidelity to it and to law demands that judges make moral judgments. He proposes that we all interpret the abstract language (...) of the Constitution by reference to moral principles about political decency and justice. His `moral reading therefore brings political morality into the heart of constitutional law. The various chapters of this book were originally published separately and are now drawn together to provide the reader with a rich, full-length treatment of Dworkin's general theory of law. (shrink)
Several years ago I prepared a point-by-point response to this postscript as a working paper for the NYU Colloquium in Legal, Moral and Political Philosophy. I have not yet published that paper, but I understand that copies of it are in circulation. I do not intend to recapitulate the arguments of that working paper, but instead to concentrate on one aspect of Hart's Postscript, which is his defence of Archimedean jurisprudence. I shall have something to say about his own legal (...) philosophy, which was a form of legal positivism. But I shall mainly be concerned about the method that he said generated his legal positivism. (shrink)
Dworkin wonders, in so far as we might be for equality, to some degree, what would we be for? He thinks equality is a complex, multi-faceted ideal. One facet is distributional equality. Here the question is, concerning money and other resources to be privately owned by individuals, when is the distribution an equal one? Equality of welfare “holds that a distributional scheme treats people as equals when it distributes or transfers resources among them until no further transfer would leave them (...) more equal in welfare.” Equality of welfare is a utilitarian version of egalitarianism. (shrink)
The puzzle arises because propositions of law seem to be descriptive—they are about how things are in the law, not about how they should be—and yet it has proved extremely difficult to say exactly what it is that they describe. Legal positivists believe that propositions of law are indeed wholly descriptive: they are in fact pieces of history. A proposition of law in their view, is true just in case some event of a designated law-making kind has taken place, and (...) other wise not. This seems to work reasonably well in very simple cases. If the Illinois legislature enacts the words "No will shall be valid without three witnesses, "then the proposition of law, that in Illinois will needs three witnesses, seems to be true only in virtue of that historical event.But in more difficult cases the analysis fails. Consider the proposition that a particular affirmative action scheme is constitutionally valid. If that is true, it cannot be so just in virtue of the text of the Constitution and the fact of prior court decisions, because reasonable lawyers who know exactly what the constitution says and what the courts have done may yet disagree whether it is true. What are the other possibilities? One is to suppose that controversial propositions f law, like the affirmative action statement, are not descriptive at all but are rather expressions of what the speaker wants the law to be.Another is more ambitious: controversial statements are attempts to describe some pure objective or natural law, which exits in virtue of objective moral truth rather than historical decision. Both these projects take some legal statements, at least, to be purely evaluative as distinct from descriptive: they express either what the speaker prefers—his personal politics—or what he believes is objectively required b the principles of an ideal political morality. Neither of these projects is plausible because someone who says that a particular untested affirmative action plan is constitution does mean to describe the law as it is rather than as he wants it to be or thinks that, by the best moral theory, it should be. He might, indeed, say that the regrets that the plan is constitutional and thinks that, according to the best moral theory, it ought not to be.There is a better alternative: propositions of law are not simply descriptive of legal history, in a straightforward way, nor are they simply evaluative in some way divorced from legal history. They are interpretive of legal history, which combines elements of both description and evaluation but is different from both. This suggestion will be congenial, at least at first blush, to many lawyers and legal philosophers. They are used to saying that law is a matter of interpretation; but only, perhaps because they understand interpretation in a certain way. When a statute is unclear on some point, because some crucial term is vague or because a sentence is ambiguous, lawyers say that the statute must be interpreted, and they apply what they call "techniques of statutory construction." Most of the literature assumes that interpretation of a particular document is a matter of discovering what its authors meant to say in using the words they did. But lawyers recognize that on many issues the author had no intention either way and that on others his intention cannot be discovered. Some lawyers take a more skeptical position. They say that whenever judges pretend they are discovering the intention behind some piece of legislation, this is simply a smoke screen behind which the judges impose their own view of what the statute should have been.Ronald Dworkin, professor of jurisprudence at Oxford University, is the author of Taking Rights Seriously and editor of The Philosophy of Law. (shrink)
Echoing the debate about the nature of law that has dominated legal philosophy for several decades, this volume includes essays on the nature of law and on law not as it is but as it should be. Wherever possible, essays have been chosen that have provoked direct responses from other legal philosophers, and in two cases these responses are included. Contributors include H.L.A. Hart, R.M. Dworkin, Lord Patrick Devlin, John Rawls, J.J. Thomson, J. Finnis, and T.M. Scanlon.
“Even the statement ‘There are no such things as moral duties’ is a claim about moral duties. There is no neutral position. If I say, ‘Are there any such things as moral duties?’ and you say, ‘No’, you’re not being neutral. You’re making a decision. You’re deciding that rich people have no duty to help poor people. That’s what you’re saying.”.
John Rawls was, we know, the most influential political philosopher of his time. I want to talk about the influence of his ideas not just in philosophy but in the broader theory of government, and in political and intellectual life more generally. Though he never aimed at this—indeed he held out against it—he was one of the very few preeminent intellectuals whose work, like Freud’s and Darwin’s, quickly crossed from a single academic field into the academy generally and then into (...) general culture. (shrink)