Thursday, February 14, 2013
Via Larry Solum, I learn the news that the important philosopher of law and politics, Ronald Dworkin, has passed away. I only met Professor Dworkin one time, in a law and philosophy class at Columbia co-taught by Professors Jeremy Waldron and Joseph Raz (it was a fun class). Professor Dworkin was the first in a series of guest presenters, and I distinctly remember Professor Waldron telling the class before his arrival, "Remember, we don't want to argue with Professor Dworkin; we want to understand him." He presented an early draft of a paper of what was to become a chapter in "Is Democracy Possible Here? Principles for a New Political Debate." My memory is that he was as fine a parser and distinguisher of factual situations as I have seen.
Professor Dworkin was also a superb writer. Everyone writes differently, and for different reasons, but much of my own writing is generated, propelled, and sustained as a series of reactions or disagreements. I intend it as a genuine tribute of respect to Professor Dworkin that his writing provoked, and still provokes, strong reactions in me. I can think of no better example of the power of his writing to elicit such a reaction than the following passage:
It is in the nature of legal interpretation—not just but particularly constitutional interpretation—to aim at happy endings. There is no alternative, except aiming at unhappy ones. . . . Telling it how it is means, up to a point, telling it how it should be. . . . That is a noble faith, and only optimism can redeem it.
Freedom's Law: The Moral Reading of the American Constitution.