Ronald Dworkin (1931 – 2013)
Holberg Prize laureate 2007 Ronald Dworkin died on February 14, 2013.
Ronald Dworkin received the Holberg International Memorial Prize in 2007. Photo: Holberg Prize.
“It is with deep regret that we received the news of Ronald Dworkin’s death. His pioneering work has left a lasting influence on legal theory, but also demonstrates a unique ability to link theory with practical everyday life implications. One of his colleagues, Professor Emilios Christodoulidis at the University of Glasgow, has written: “In the last thirty years Dworkin has left his mark in the Philosophy of Law to the point where nearly every contribution to the field is either directly or at least indirectly an engagement with his work.”
The Holberg Prize Academic Committee wrote the following about Dworkin’s scientific contribution in 2007:
“Ronald Dworkin has developed 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. Dworkin provides a balanced solution to the intractable controversy between the two major legal schools of the 20th century: legal positivism and natural law. He understands the legal system as consisting of rules as well as principles, the latter being of moral nature (Taking Rights Seriously, 1977). (…) Dworkin has elaborated a liberal egalitarian theory emphasizing equality of dignity and respect and devoted to the conviction that at the heart of any decent conception of justified political action lies the idea of individual human worth (Life's Dominion, 1993; Freedom's Law, 1996; Sovereign Virtue, 2000). In recent years, Dworkin has worked on the conflict between majoritarianism and moral principles in a polarized society (Is Democracy Possible Here?, 2006). Dworkin's pioneering scholarly work has had world wide impact. He has also participated extensively in public debate of contemporary political and legal issues.”
Dworkin was indeed a worthy winner of the Holberg Prize. While we deeply regret his passing we are also proud to count him among the Holberg Prize Laureates.”
Chair, Board of the Ludvig Holberg Memorial Fund
Director, Holberg International Memorial Prize, University of Bergen
From The Washington Post 15.02.2013:
“Ronald Dworkin, an innovative legal thinker who developed a novel interpretation of the moral underpinnings of the Constitution and who became respected in liberal circles for his writings on law, politics and hotly debated public issues, died Feb. 14 in London.
Mr. Dworkin, who also taught for many years at the University of Oxford in Britain, went against a century of legal thinking — including the theories of his two most important mentors — to develop a new concept of jurisprudence based on society’s widely shared notions of morality.
His idea of “law as integrity” held that jurists should interpret legal cases through a consistent set of moral principles. In other words, law and morality were inextricably linked, which was a subtle twist in legal thinking. Mr. Dworkin’s theories gained a wide following, particularly among social liberals.
“For many, Dworkin was something of a legal prophet who tried to invest legal interpretation with a sense of moral reasoning,” Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, said Thursday. “His writings offered a new and transcendent view of the law — a view that will influence legal reasoning for generations.”
In one of his landmark books, “Taking Rights Seriously” (1978), Mr. Dworkin rejected the two prevailing theories that had dominated legal thinking in the United States and Britain for most of the century: legal positivism and utilitarianism.
Legal positivism maintained that individuals possessed only those rights granted to them through political decisions or long-standing social practices. Utilitarianism suggested that the law should uphold the principle of providing the greatest good for the greatest number of people. By that theory, Mr. Dworkin pointed out, the rights of a minority would always be subject to the will of the majority.
The theories had been espoused by H.L.A. Hart, Mr. Dworkin’s onetime professor at Oxford, and by Learned Hand, a federal judge in New York whom Mr. Dworkin served as a law clerk. Nonetheless, he challenged their ideas by charting a new way of thinking about legal principles.
In other books, such as “Law’s Empire” (1986) and “Freedom’s Law” (1996), Mr. Dworkin explored concepts of jurisprudence and the Constitution, which he saw as a living document built around abstract moral principles open to changing interpretations throughout history.
“He viewed the discussions by the framers as a moral dialogue about the role of government in the lives of human beings,” Turley said. “Dworkin offered a distinctly new and provocative view of what the framers were talking about. That’s what made him so remarkable.”
Mr. Dworkin applied his notions to a series of controversial issues, including abortion, affirmative action, free speech, campaign finance, terrorism, civil liberties and physician-assisted suicide. He became known as a “public intellectual,” writing for the New York Review of Books and lecturing at universities throughout the United States.