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Ronald Dworkin, R.I.P.

February 15, 2013 in Uncategorized

By David Gordon

Ronald Dworkin,  (1931-2013) who died yesterday, was widely regarded as America’s leading legal philosopher. He was decidedly not a libertarian, but libertarians will find much of interest and value in his work.  His defense of moral objectivity in his Justice for Hedgehogs (2011) is especially impressive. He argues that views about the nature of morality are themselves moral positions. If you say, e.g, that there is no objectively correct answer to the question whether abortion (or anything else) is morally  wrong, you are in effect saying that abortion is morally permissible. The supposed external criticism of morality–there is no such thing as moral truth— is really an internal proposal within morality. Many people will instinctively reject this “quietest” position; but if they do, they will I predict find it hard to show exactly where Dworkin goes wrong.

His famous essay “Is Wealth A Value?”, available in his collection A Matter of Principle, is a devastating criticism of Richard Posner’s wealth-maximization approach to law. Those of us who prefer a Rothbardian defense of the free market to the supposedly more scientific Chicago School view will find in Dworkin’s essay much of value. Although libertarians will find him far too egalitarian, he offers in Sovereign Virtue a strong emphasis on individual responsibility. In the same book, he offers some penetrating observations about Rawls’s Theory of Justice. My own favorite essay of his, also in A Matter of Principle, is his demolition of Michael Walzer’s Spheres of Justice. If you read it, you will see right away that Dworkin was a great critic.

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