Ronald Dworkin’s Justice for Hedgehogs

Can I call this book “Dworkin’s chef d’oeuvre”? It may be. The book defends a large and old philosophical thesis: the unity of value. As he says in the introduction: “Its title refers to a line by an ancient Greek poet, Archilochus, that Isaiah Berlin made famous for us.”

Dworkin dedicated this 500-pages book to ethics, morality and politics, through the lenses of his theory of interpretation. For him, many concepts – that we are used to look at as criteria concepts – should be instead considered as interpretative concepts. Law for example, is presented as a department, a subdivision, of political morality. In other words, it is not whether morality is separate from law (as positivism arguably suggests) nor is morality necessary for a law to be law (as natural law school arguably suggests). In those two schools, law and morality presuppose each other as distinct categories of values. Dworkin instead was ambitious to suggest the unity of value – through interpretation, morality becomes an essential part in the way law – as an interpretative concept – is understood from the beginning.

I admit that reading most of the book was a very difficult enterprise: Dworkin presented – as is usually the case in his writing – philosophical matters as defended by great philosophers and thinkers, and then suggested a rather completely different view, full of nuances. He did that, though, eloquently, with references to Shakespeare’s and Greek myths personalities that I have had to looked them up. It shows his great culture that goes beyond philosophy and law.

Dworkin is great to read. He reminds the readers – as if he is in a conversation with them – about his opinions and principles throughout the book. As if he wants us to grasp the most important ideas and thoughts which can be found either in the introduction or in the Epilogue.

For those lawyers who do not have time to read the whole book, they can read the last chapter on politics (where he discusses political rights, equality, liberty, democracy and LAW). The section on law is relatively short (15 pages) but revolutionary in its propositions. Dworkin merits to be considered as a school of thought in law as in politics, morality and ethics, that is distinguishable from positivism and other schools of thought in law.

He concluded his book this way:

“Remember, finally, the truth as well as its corruption. The justice we have imagined begins in what seems an unchallengeable proposition: that government must treat those under its dominion with equal concern and respect. That justice does not threaten -it expands- our liberty. It does not trade freedom for equality or the other way around. It does not cripple enterprise for the sake of cheats. It favors neither big nor small government but only just government. It is drawn from dignity and aims at dignity. It makes it easier and more likely for each of us to live a good life well. Remember, too, that the stakes are more than moral. 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 morality. We make our lives tiny diamonds in the cosmic sand.”

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