RONALD MYLES DWORKIN, FBA (/ˈdwɔːrkɪn/ ; December 11, 1931 –
February 14, 2013) was an American philosopher , jurist , and scholar
United States constitutional law . At the time of his death, he was
Frank Henry Sommer Professor of
Law and Philosophy at New York
University and Professor of
Jurisprudence at University College London
, and had taught previously at
Yale Law School and the University of
Oxford , where he was the Professor of Jurisprudence, successor to
Herbert Lionel Hart . An influential contributor to both philosophy of
law and political philosophy , Dworkin received the 2007 Holberg
International Memorial Prize in the Humanities for "his pioneering
scholarly work" of "worldwide impact." According to a survey in The
Journal of Legal Studies , Dworkin was the second most-cited American
legal scholar of the twentieth century. After his death, the Harvard
Cass Sunstein said Dworkin was "one of the most
important legal philosophers of the last 100 years. He may well head
His theory of law as integrity as presented in his book titled Law\'s
Empire , in which judges interpret the law in terms of consistent
moral principles, especially justice and fairness, is among the most
influential contemporary theories about the nature of law. Dworkin
advocated a "moral reading" of the
United States Constitution
United States Constitution , and
an interpretivist approach to law and morality. He was a frequent
commentator on contemporary political and legal issues, particularly
those concerning the
Supreme Court of the United States
Supreme Court of the United States , often in the
The New York Review of Books .
* 1 Early life and education
* 2 Career
Jurisprudence and philosophy
Law as rule and principle
* 3.2 The right answer thesis
* 3.3 Discussion of the right answer thesis
* 3.4 Moral reading of the Constitution
* 3.5 Theory of equality
* 3.6 Positive and negative liberty
* 4 Personal life and death
* 5 Awards
* 6 Published works
* 7 See also
* 8 References
* 9 Further reading
* 10 External links
EARLY LIFE AND EDUCATION
Ronald Dworkin was born in 1931 in
Providence, Rhode Island
Providence, Rhode Island , United
States, the son of Madeline (Talamo) and David Dworkin. His family
was Jewish. He graduated from
Harvard University (
A.B. summa cum laude
Phi Beta Kappa
Phi Beta Kappa junior year) and
Magdalen College, Oxford
Magdalen College, Oxford , where he
Rhodes Scholar and a student of Sir
Rupert Cross . After he
completed his final year's exams at Oxford, the examiners were so
impressed with his script that the Professor of
Jurisprudence (then H.
L. A. Hart ) was summoned to read it. He was awarded a B.A. with a
Congratulatory first . Dworkin then attended
Harvard Law School (LL.B
magna cum laude ) and subsequently clerked for
Learned Hand of
United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit .
would later call Dworkin "the law clerk to beat all law clerks" —and
Dworkin would recall
Judge Hand as an enormously influential mentor.
After clerking for
Judge Learned Hand, Dworkin was offered the
opportunity to clerk for
Felix Frankfurter . He turned down
the offer and joined Sullivan he denies that local theories of
particular legal systems can identify law without recourse to its
moral merits, and he rejects the whole institutional focus of
positivism. A theory of law is for Dworkin a theory of how cases ought
to be decided and it begins, not with an account of the political
organization of a legal system, but with an abstract ideal regulating
the conditions under which governments may use coercive force over
Ronald Dworkin in 2008
Dworkin is most famous for his critique of Hart\'s legal positivism ;
he sets forth the fullest statement of his critique in his book Law\'s
Empire . Dworkin's theory is 'interpretive ': the law is whatever
follows from a constructive interpretation of the institutional
history of the legal system.
Dworkin argues that moral principles that people hold dear are often
wrong, even to the extent that certain crimes are acceptable if one's
principles are skewed enough. To discover and apply these principles,
courts interpret the legal data (legislation, cases etc.) with a view
to articulating an interpretation that best explains and justifies
past legal practice. All interpretation must follow, Dworkin argues,
from the notion of "law as integrity " to make sense.
Out of the idea that law is 'interpretive' in this way, Dworkin
argues that in every situation where people's legal rights are
controversial, the best interpretation involves the right answer
thesis, the thesis that there exists a right answer as a matter of law
that the judge must discover. Dworkin opposes the notion that judges
have a discretion in such difficult cases.
Dworkin's model of legal principles is also connected with Hart's
notion of the
Rule of Recognition . Dworkin rejects Hart's conception
of a master rule in every legal system that identifies valid laws, on
the basis that this would entail that the process of identifying law
must be uncontroversial, whereas (Dworkin argues) people have legal
rights even in cases where the correct legal outcome is open to
Dworkin moves away from positivism\'s separation of law and morality,
since constructive interpretation implicates moral judgments in every
decision about what the law is.
Despite their intellectual disagreements, Hart and Dworkin "remained
on good terms."
THE RIGHT ANSWER THESIS
In Dworkin's own words, his "right answer thesis" may be interpreted
through the following words:
Suppose the legislature has passed a statute stipulating that
"sacrilegious contracts shall henceforth be invalid." The community is
divided as to whether a contract signed on Sunday is, for that reason
alone, sacrilegious. It is known that very few of the legislators had
that question in mind when they voted, and that they are now equally
divided on the question of whether it should be so interpreted. Tom
and Tim have signed a contract on Sunday, and Tom now sues Tim to
enforce the terms of the contract, whose validity Tim contests. Shall
we say that the judge must look for the right answer to the question
of whether Tom's contract is valid, even though the community is
deeply divided about what the right answer is? Or is it more realistic
to say that there simply is no right answer to the question?
One of Dworkin's most interesting and controversial theses states
that the law as properly interpreted will give an answer. This is not
to say that everyone will have the same answer (a consensus of what is
"right"), or if it did, the answer would not be justified exactly in
the same way for every person; rather it means that there will be a
necessary answer for each individual if he applies himself correctly
to the legal question. For the correct method is that encapsulated by
the metaphor of
Judge Hercules, an ideal judge, immensely wise and
with full knowledge of legal sources.
Hercules (the name comes from a
classical mythological hero ) would also have plenty of time to
decide. Acting on the premise that the law is a seamless web, Hercules
is required to construct the theory that best fits and justifies the
law as a whole (law as integrity ) in order to decide any particular
case. Hercules, Dworkin argues, would always come to the one right
Dworkin does not deny that competent lawyers often disagree on what
is the solution to a given case. On the contrary, he claims that they
are disagreeing about the right answer to the case, the answer
Hercules would give.
Dworkin's critics argue not only that law proper (that is, the legal
sources in a positivist sense) is full of gaps and inconsistencies,
but also that other legal standards (including principles) may be
insufficient to solve a hard case. Some of them are incommensurable .
In any of these situations, even
Hercules would be in a dilemma and
none of the possible answers would be the right one.
DISCUSSION OF THE RIGHT ANSWER THESIS
Dworkin's metaphor of judge
Hercules bears some resemblance to Rawls
' veil of ignorance and Habermas ' ideal speech situation, in that
they all suggest idealized methods of arriving at somehow valid
normative propositions. The key difference with respect to the former
is that Rawls' veil of ignorance translates almost seamlessly from the
purely ideal to the practical. In relation to politics in a democratic
society, for example, it is a way of saying that those in power should
treat the political opposition consistently with how they would like
to be treated when in opposition, because their present position
offers no guarantee as to what their position will be in the political
landscape of the future (i.e. they will inevitably form the opposition
at some point). Dworkin's
Judge Hercules, on the other hand, is a
purely idealized construct, that is if such a figure existed, he would
arrive at a right answer in every moral dilemma . For a critique along
these lines see Lorenzo Zucca's Constitutional Dilemmas.
Dworkin's right answer thesis turns on the success of his attack on
the skeptical argument that right answers in legal-moral dilemmas
cannot be determined. Dworkin's anti-skeptical argument is essentially
that the properties of the skeptic's claim are analogous to those of
substantive moral claims, that is, in asserting that the truth or
falsity of "legal-moral" dilemmas cannot be determined, the skeptic
makes not a metaphysical claim about the way things are, but a moral
claim to the effect that it is, in the face of epistemic uncertainty,
unjust to determine legal-moral issues to the detriment of any given
MORAL READING OF THE CONSTITUTION
In her recent book on
Hans Kelsen , Sandrine Baume identified Ronald
Dworkin as a leading defender of the "compatibility of judicial review
with the very principles of democracy." Baume identified John Hart Ely
alongside Dworkin as the foremost defenders of this principle in
recent years, while the opposition to this principle of
"compatibility" was identified as Bruce Ackerman and Jeremy Waldron.
Dworkin has been a long-time advocate of the principle of the moral
reading of the Constitution whose lines of support he sees as strongly
associated with enhanced versions of judicial review in the federal
THEORY OF EQUALITY
Dworkin has also made important contributions to what is sometimes
called the equality of what debate. In a famous pair of articles and
his book Sovereign Virtue he advocates a theory he calls 'equality of
resources'. This theory combines two key ideas. Broadly speaking, the
first is that human beings are responsible for the life choices they
make. The second is that natural endowments of intelligence and talent
are morally arbitrary and ought not to affect the distribution of
resources in society. Like the rest of Dworkin's work, his theory of
equality is underpinned by the core principle that every person is
entitled to equal concern and respect in the design of the structure
of society. Dworkin's theory of equality is said to be one variety of
so-called luck egalitarianism , but he rejects this statement
(Philosophy and Public Affairs, v. 31: 2).
POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE LIBERTY
In the essay "Do Values Conflict? A Hedgehog's Approach" (Arizona Law
Review, Vol 43:2), Dworkin contends that the values of liberty and
equality do not necessarily conflict. He criticizes
Isaiah Berlin 's
conception of liberty as "flat" and proposes a new, "dynamic"
conception of liberty, suggesting that one cannot say that one's
liberty is infringed when one is prevented from committing murder.
Thus, liberty cannot be said to have been infringed when no wrong has
been done. Put in this way, liberty is only liberty to do whatever we
wish so long as we do not infringe upon the rights of others.
PERSONAL LIFE AND DEATH
While working for
Judge Learned Hand, Dworkin met his future wife,
Betsy Ross, with whom he would have twins Anthony and Jennifer. Betsy
was the daughter of a successful New York businessman. They were
married from 1958 until Betsy died of cancer in 2000. Dworkin later
married Irene Brendel, the former wife of pianist
Alfred Brendel .
Dworkin died of leukemia in
London on February 14, 2013 at the age of
81. He is survived by his second wife, two children, and two
In September 2007, Dworkin was awarded the Holberg International
Memorial Prize . The award citation of the Holberg Prize Academic
Committee recognized that Dworkin has "elaborated a liberal
egalitarian theory" and stressed Dworkin's effort to develop "an
original and highly influential legal theory grounding law in
morality, characterized by a unique ability to tie together abstract
philosophical ideas and arguments with concrete everyday concerns in
law, morals, and politics".
New York University
New York University Annual Survey of American
Law honored Dworkin
with its 2006 dedication.
In 2006, the Legal Research Institute of the National Autonomous
University of Mexico honored Dworkin with the International Prize of
legal Research "Dr. Héctor Fix-Zamudio".
In June 2000, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University
of Pennsylvania. In June 2009, he was awarded an honorary doctorate
of law by Harvard University. In August 2011, the University of
Buenos Aires awarded Dworkin an honorary doctorate. The resolution
noted that he "has tirelessly defended the rule of law, democracy and
human rights." These were among a number of honorary doctorates
conferred upon him.
On November 14, 2012, he received the
Balzan Prize for Jurisprudence
in Quirinale Palace, Rome, from the President of the Italian Republic.
Balzan Prize was awarded "for his fundamental contributions to
Jurisprudence, characterized by outstanding originality and clarity of
thought in a continuing and fruitful interaction with ethical and
political theories and with legal practices".
He was an honorary Queen\'s Counsel (QC).
Taking Rights Seriously . Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press,
* The Philosophy of
Law (Oxford Readings in Philosophy). Ed. New
York: Oxford University Press, 1977.
* A Matter of Principle. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press,
* Law\'s Empire . Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 1986.
* Philosophical Issues in Senile Dementia. Washington, DC: U.S.
Government Printing Office, 1987.
* A Bill of Rights for Britain. Ann Arbor, MI: University of
Michigan Press, 1990.
* Life's Dominion: An Argument About Abortion, Euthanasia, and
Individual Freedom. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1993.
* Freedom\'s Law: The Moral Reading of the American Constitution.
Harvard University Press, 1996.
* Sovereign Virtue: The Theory and Practice of Equality. Cambridge,
Harvard University Press, 2000.
* A Badly Flawed Election: Debating Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court,
and American Democracy. Ed. New York: New Press, 2002.
* From Liberal Values to Democratic Transition: Essays in Honor of
Janos Kis. Ed. Budapest: Central European University Press, 2004.
Justice in Robes. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press, 2006.
Democracy Possible Here? Principles for a New Political Debate.
Princeton University Press, 2006.
* The Supreme Court Phalanx: The Court's New Right-Wing Bloc. New
York: New York Review Books, 2008.
Justice for Hedgehogs. Cambridge, MA:
Harvard University Press,
* Religion Without God. Cambridge, MA:
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Contributions to liberal theory
* Legal indeterminacy
List of American philosophers
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* ^ Baume, Sandrine (2011).
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* ^ Waldron, Jeremy (2006). "The Core of the case against judicial
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* Allard, Julie. Dworkin et Kant: Réflexions sur le judgement.
Bruxelles: Editions de l'ULB, 2001.
* Brown, Alexander. Ronald Dworkin's Theory of Equality: Domestic
and Global Perspectives. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009.
* Benjamin Brown, From Principles to Rules and from Musar to
Halakhah - The Hafetz Hayim\'s Rulings on Libel and Gossip
* Burke, John J.A. The Political Foundation of Law: The Need for
Theory with Practical Value. San Francisco: Austin ;background:none
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