February 20, 2013
Ronald Dworkin (1931-2013): On the value of being skeptical while being here
Many would agree that Ronald Dworkin was the most important philosopher of law (and politics) in the Anglo-American sphere of influence in our time. Note well, that proposition is based on a value judgment and that is Dworkin 101.
Propositions in Dworkin 101 (philosophy alert -- propositions are statements examined by critical, logical analysis) are true if they flow from principles of fairness and justice. Define what is fair and just, and then draw conclusions that do not violate formal logic. However, if one disagrees with the value propositions about what is fair and just, there's no need to continue reading unless one wants to identify topics not covered or critique the specific methodology used. Just return the text to the law library.
But this is always the case in philosophical thought. For example, if you don't accept that "Becoming" is the result of "Being" and "Nothing", there is no reason to continue reading Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit (or Mind or Culture) except for performing a critical analysis of Hegel's speculative methodology aka "dialectics" and/or identifying topics not covered by this and all "all too human" thinkers. Accept "Being" to "Nothing" to "Becoming": Hegel's dialectical reasoning is ruthlessly logical. One can end up an "absolute idealist," not that there is anything wrong with that!
Some would argue that Dworkin's major contribution was to make the case that moral considerations should be taken into account in law plus politics (avoiding the "law and .."). One could argue that since they already are considerations, for example, at the judicial level, ethics in law (not legal ethics) must be the "stuff" of close examination. I would argue that Dworkin's project was much more fundamental. The philosopher's task is to question and by questioning to remind others that they ought to do the same. Becoming skeptical is the root from which our Euro-centric tree of philosophical traditions originated from.
In the below video clip, Dworkin makes the case that skepticism is a moral position. As such, it must be earned according to Dworkin. Should the intellectual output of unearned skepticism be ignored? I don't think Dworkin is saying that one should have a closed mind. An open mind is evidence of being willing listen to anyone because one has the guts to re-think one's own assumptions. Ultimately that is the task of a philosophical GPS in the world of spirit or mind or culture we all too human beings dwell until we die.
Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog has posted links to obits and memorial notices at In Memoriam: Ronald Dworkin (1931-2013). Highly recommended. [JH]
On a more prosaic front, the funniest story I have about Professor Dworkin is from many years ago when I worked in a law library in an English university. One of Professor Dworkin's massive tomes passed through my hands. I opened it to the dedication page where it was written, "to Betsy." Some English law student [wag] had lightly penciled under "to Betsy," and in very fine print had written, "poor Betsy."
I suspect even such illuminaries as Thomas Mann, Herman Melville, James Joyce, and others had their own "poor Betsys," who might also have wished for some lighter reading fare.
Laura the law lib
Posted by: Laura the law lib | Feb 20, 2013 4:15:30 PM