Love reading on a broad range of topics but especially the humanities and history, law and justice and ethics and morality. Not long ago I read one of Dworkin’s best books, Justice for Hedgehogs, a book about society as a place of rules and morals. It’s real message is that moral principle is the foundation of law. I’ve also read Dworkin’s ‘Taking Rights Seriously’ and ‘Law’s Empire’ both of which I can’t recommend enough.
Focusing on the theory of law Dworkin was one of the great specialists in the philosophy of law along with the likes of H.L.A. (Herbert) Hart and Jürgen Habermas. His key belief was that the law should be grounded in moral integrity, understood as the moral idea that the state should act on principle so each member of the community is treated as an equal. He was not a positivist. His life was basically one big critique of positivism.
I am not a positivist.
I do not accept that a system of hardened rules must stand. I’m a Dworkinian. Law and morality are not exclusive. Law should, first and foremost, be a place of moral integrity.
Since the rise of Donald Trump in America I have found myself turning more and more to Dworkin’s work, among others, as well as re-examining and re-invigorating my own sense of what is right and ethical and moral in the law.
Without dignity our lives are only blinks of duration. But if we manage to lead a good life well, we create something more. We write a subscript to our mortality. We make our lives tiny diamonds in the cosmic sands. (Ronald Dworkin: Justice for Hedgehogs)
But what does Dworkin mean by ‘dignity’?
I just finished writing up an interview with Ronald Dworkin for the next issue of The Philosophers’ Magazine. He talked a bit about the meaning of life. Lots of people think that for a life to have meaning it has to leave something valuable behind — a meaningful life is one that produces a cure for disease, a fine book of sonnets, some lasting contribution to the human story. Most lives aren’t meaningful in this sense. We can’t all be Alexander Fleming. Dworkin argues that this ignores another kind of value a life might have. What matters is not just what you leave behind when you check out, but how your life is lived. His distinction is between the product value of a life and its performance value. A dancer dances, a diver dives, and that’s it, there’s nothing left, but didn’t something of value come into the world? Maybe, so too, with a human life. As he puts it at the end of Justice for Hedgehogs, “Without dignity our lives are only blinks of duration. But if we manage to lead a good life well, we create something more. We write a subscript to our mortality. We make our lives tiny diamonds in the cosmic sands.” Talking Philosophy
And, yes, I’m sure Mr. Dworkin, a great believer in human dignity and that rights trump, is turning over in his grave . . . and over . . . and over . . . . as he looks down on the regime of President Trump in the USA. I doubt Mr. Dworkin gets any rest these days.