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Latest Book Makes Raves

Critics embrace Dworkin’s opus on truth, morality, and justice.

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Frank Henry Sommer Professor of Law Ronald Dworkin published his most comprehensive book, Justice for Hedgehogs, in January. It is an ambitious and wide-ranging exploration of moral, legal, and political philosophy. This spring Dworkin’s arguments were challenged in some academic corners, but overall the book has met with critical acclaim.

The hedgehog of the title is a reference to the Greek saying that while the fox knows many things, the hedgehog knows one big thing. Dworkin’s big thing is the unity of value, which is, as he writes in the book, “the hedgehog’s faith that all true values form an interlocking network, that each of our convictions about what is good or right or beautiful plays some role in supporting each of our other convictions in each of those domains of value.”

In his essay in Problema, “How Far Can You Go with Quietism?” Gerald Lang concludes that “Dworkin’s arguments are deeply powerful and suggestive,” but he takes issue with Dworkin’s attack on metaethics, or the study of whether values really exist (as opposed to the question of what actual moral rights and duties we have). “Dworkin’s concern to avoid leaving metaphysical hostages to fortune is taken by him, rashly, to justify a principled incuriosity about moral metaphysics,” Lang writes. “But the arguments he deploys do not justify this incuriosity.”

No such reservations were evident in a glowing review in the New York Review of Books. Dworkin weaves together ethics, morals, interpretation, politics, free will, and law into a complex argument to make this case, reviewer A.C. Grayling notes, and then explores the practical implications. “That is what gives the overall argument its urgency, for Dworkin’s principal aim in establishing unity of value is the familiar and central one for him: to show how law and government can be based on political morality.” The book develops theories of liberty and economic justice, democracy, law and ethics, among many other subjects, and qualifies, Grayling says, as a debatechanger: “We are in at the birth, here, of a modern philosophical classic, one of the essential works of contemporary thought.”

Writing in New Humanist, reviewer Conor Gearty says that, in Justice for Hedgehogs, “all of Dworkin’s great talent is on display,” and likens reading this philosophical exploration to “being on an ideas roller-coaster: periods of calm punctuated by extreme excitement as you try desperately to hang in there while being pushed back and forth, in and out of your comfort zone, albeit with occasional brief returns to the known to calm you down.”

After having opened his review with the rueful observation that academic scholarship today is often akin to staying at a hotel—well-furnished rooms but little meeting of the minds with other guests— Gearty concludes with this observation: “If Ronald Dworkin were a hotel he would be the Savoy, but a Savoy that is genuinely open to all, doors always open, guests spilling into the reception rooms, talking, arguing and laughing too.”

Dworkin created a blog ( to respond to the book’s critiques, including exploring unpublished comments on the book made by University Professor Samuel Scheffler. On Gearty’s Savoy equation, Dworkin wrote, self-deprecatingly, “That hotel, I note, was closed a few years ago as in urgent need of modernization. (It has since reopened.)”

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