Ronald Dworkin

(b. 1931)

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(1931– )

American philosopher of law. Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, Dworkin was educated at Harvard and Oxford. He was Professor of Jurisprudence at Oxford (1969–98), at New York university since 1975, and Quain Professor of Jurisprudence at University College, London (1998– ). He is known for his defence of ‘legal realism’, here meaning the integral place that moral and pragmatic considerations play in legal decision-making, in opposition to what he sees as their exclusion by legal positivism and by the work of his predecessor at Oxford, H. L. A. Hart (see law, philosophy of). Although he is described as a realist about legal truth, Dworkin's system may also be described as constructivist, since it approaches the nature of legal truth through the method of an ideal, or perhaps romanticized judge ‘Hercules’. This fictional character is sensitive to both morality and settled law, and above all to the theory that best explains settled law, and it is his procedures that give us our conception of legal method and legal truth. A liberal and a Democrat, Dworkin bases constitutional rights on a fundamental right of all people to equal concern and respect; applications of this include defences of reverse discrimination (this may be tough on those who are denied schools or jobs because of such policies, but the ‘right to be treated as an equal’ need not imply a right to equal treatment). On the other hand, Dworkin defends other freedoms, such as the right to produce and consume pornography, against the objection that its existence displays lack of equal concern and respect for women. His books include Taking Rights Seriously (1977), A Matter of Principle (1985), Law's Empire (1986), and Life's Dominion: An Argument about Abortion, Euthanasia, and Individual Freedom (1993).

Subjects: Philosophy.

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