DWORKIN, RONALD (1931– ), U.S. legal philosopher. Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, Dworkin received a B.A. degree from Harvard in 1953 and another B.A. degree in 1955 from Oxford. Two years later he received his law degree from Harvard. After admission to the New York bar, he joined the law firm Sullivan and Cromwell as an associate. In 1962 he joined the faculty of Yale Law School, where he was named Hohfeld Professor in 1968. In 1969 he was appointed professor of jurisprudence and Fellow at University College, Oxford; in 1977 he became professor of law at New York University without resigning his position at Oxford.
Dworkin is recognized as a leading philosopher of law. His best-known works are Taking Rights Seriously (1977), A Matter of Principle (1985), and Law's Empire (1986). In his work Dworkin has contended against the philosophy of legal positivism, identified with Jeremy Bentham, John Austin, and more recently H.L.A. Hart. Legal decisions, he maintains, should be based on principles and pre-existing rights, rather than on discretion or policy. While rights may be controversial, Dworkin holds that nonetheless there is always only one right answer in hard cases. Rights, he holds, are inherent in the Constitution and in the precedents that interpret it. Judges make moral judgments as they apply precedents to factual situations – precedents on which principles are based and which are the bases of decisions.
In Ronald Dworkin and Contemporary Jurisprudence (1984), the editor – Professor Marshall Cohen – states, "In the opinion of the editor, the jurisprudential writings of Ronald Dworkin constitute the finest contribution yet made by an American writer to the philosophy of law."
Despite Dworkin's close association, as student and as teacher, with Oxford, he is basically an American thinker. Much more than would be true of a British jurist, Dworkin has been influenced by American constitutional law and constitutional jurisprudence. His emphasis on principle is a reflection of this influence.
Dworkin holds the positions of professor of philosophy and Frank Henry Sommer Professor of Law at nyu and chair at University College, London. He is a fellow of the British Academy and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, as well as co-chairman of the Democratic Party Abroad, a member of the Council of Writers and Scholars Educational Trust and of the Programme Committee of the Ditchley Foundation, and a consultant on human rights to the Ford Foundation.
Other works by Dworkin include Philosophical Issues in Senile Dementia (1987), A Bill of Rights for Britain (1990), Life's Dominion: An Argument About Abortion, Euthanasia and Individual Freedom (1993), Freedom's Law: The Moral Reading of the American Constitution (1996), and Sovereign Virtue: The Theory and Practice of Equality (2000).
S. Guest, Ronald Dworkin (1991); M. Cohen (ed.), Ronald Dworkin and Contemporary Jurisprudence (1984), A. Hunt (ed.), Reading Dworkin Critically (1992).
[Milton Ridvas Konvitz /
Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]
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