Justice for Hedgehogs

Dec 15, 2011

"The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." Ronald Dworkin argues for one big thing: the unity of value. He asserts that value is what makes sense of how we act as individuals, how we relate to others, and how we construct our lives.


JOANNE MYERS: Good afternoon. I'm Joanne Myers, director of Public Affairs Programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council I want to thank you all for coming this evening.

It is my great pleasure to welcome back Ronald Dworkin to our Public Affairs Program. Professor Dworkin is known as one of the greatest moral and political philosophers of the postwar era and is one of the most important legal philosophers of our time.

Today he will be discussing his book Justice for Hedgehogs, in which he defends a large and old philosophical thesis, the unity of value. As he presents his case, you will soon understand why his name has become synonymous with elegant and rigorously sustained arguments.

In writing Justice for Hedgehogs, Professor Dworkin has said that he wanted to bring together in one place his work in law, political and moral philosophy, as well as the theory of interpretation. For him this meant putting a lifetime of thinking about these issues into a general network of ideas so that each part is drawn from and reinforces the other.

As a reference point, the title of this magnum opus refers to an aphorism by an ancient Greek poet, which was later made famous in an essay by Isaiah Berlin entitled "The Hedgehog and the Fox." In it Berlin divided the world of great intellectuals between hedgehogs, who view the world through the lens of a single defining idea, and foxes that draw on a wide variety of experience.

The basic point is that, like the hedgehog of the title, the one big thing that Professor Dworkin cares about above all else is the unity of value. He asserts that value is what makes sense of how we act as individuals, how we relate to others, and how we construct our lives; and argues for the integration of ethics, or the principles that tell human beings how to live well; and morality, the principles that tell them how to treat other people.

He writes that this idea, that ethical and moral values depend on one another, is a creed, as it proposes a way to live. But it is also a large and complex philosophical theory.

In reading Justice for Hedgehogs, I came away thinking that in presenting his case Professor Dworkin has been actually quite "foxy." Nevertheless, armed with an arsenal of knowledge and a lifetime of critical thinking, he, like the hedgehog of yore, has brought new insight to a single idea and demonstrated that the value of what is created is inseparable from the act of creating it.

Please join me in giving a very warm welcome to someone who dares us to think about our personal responsibility in living a meaningful life and the value in living well.

Professor Dworkin, it's an honor to have you back here again.


RONALD DWORKIN: Thank you very much for that extremely generous introduction.

I am very happy to be in this wonderful and important Council and in this very strikingly beautiful building, and I am grateful to all of you for coming out in this rather nasty weather.

As Joanne said, I think of this book as the result of a strategy that I have tried to follow in my work over, I'm afraid, many years.

I started as a lawyer. Then, when I went into the academy, I became a legal philosopher. Law, if you are trying to think about it and follow its lead wherever it takes you, fans out in many directions.

If you become interested in constitutional law, then you are going to have to be interested in political philosophy.

If you are interested in the theory of adjudication—you wonder how judges should decide cases, what makes a proposition of law, a claim of law, true or false—then you will immediately encounter contemporary skepticism about that matter. All law students, and even some law professors, love to say, "There is no right answer; it's what the judge had for breakfast," and that makes them feel terribly knowing.

But you have to confront that if you have a different view. That takes you into the theory of logic, and it takes you, as we will see, into a bit of metaphysics.

If you then wonder, "How should judges decide cases? What does make one proposition of law stand out as true?" Then I think you will have to confront the theory of interpretation.

If you worry about the criminal law and the fairness of what the criminal law does to people, then you can't help encountering an ancient, very daunting philosophical problem of free will.

So, in a phrase I used in a book long ago, I have tried to work from the inside out; that is, starting with legal problems, trying to start with the concrete problem, but finding theoretical ascent essential, and I found myself writing about a wide variety of philosophical topics.

In this book, I have tried to reverse the order. That is, I have tried to set out from the outside in a general theory of philosophy that ends with a consideration of politics and law.

The first topic I take up is the topic I mentioned, skepticism. It is very popular these days. It's all around us. We went through, when I was a child, existentialism. Now we have post-modernism. And we have many fashionable theories in between, rampant in the unconfident departments of American universities, and even, as I said, I fear, in law schools.

Skepticism seems to me a mistake, at least the kind of skepticism that is very popular. I call it unearned skepticism.

Consider the following argument about a very hot topic, the topic of abortion:

A says: "Abortion is morally wrong; it's always prohibited."

B says: "Abortion is certainly not prohibited; on the contrary, in certain circumstances it is morally required."

C says: "No, you're both wrong. It's a woman's decision. But it's not a moral decision because a fetus is like an appendix."

Then comes D, who says: "All three of you are wrong, including C; you are all wrong because there is no truth in this neighborhood, there are no values out there in the universe. You're all making a mistake. There is nothing to think about. You're just venting your emotions."

The point that I try to make in this book is that D's opinion is as much a moral opinion as A's, B's, or C's. There is no way to construe it. So it doesn't take the same moral position as C—namely, abortion is permitted. If there are no moral duties, then no one has a duty not to abort. If there are no moral requirements, it is not required.

Why did philosophy for so long make the mistake of not understanding what I think is a very important thing to understand, that skepticism is itself a first-order moral claim?

I think the problem is that people have associated realism and morality. That is a grand name for the thesis that there really are true and false statements about what people ought to do. People have associated that with a certain metaphysics. They say there can only be mind-independent, universal truths about morality if there are independent entities in the universe. I call them morons, moral particles which pulse in some way.

Now, we can't make any sense of that, nor can we make any sense of denying it. The only way we can construe skepticism is as itself a first-order moral position, and, as such, it is sometimes right.

I spent many years at Oxford. This is not about morality, it's about something much less important. Every night at dinner, people would twirl their wine glasses around and say, "I think this will surprise you with its audacity. I think it's slightly nobler than what we had last night."

Now, I am a skeptic about nobility in wine. But I don't think that follows because there are never wine nobility particles in the universe. I think it's just that there is no good argument. You can't make it out as an aesthetic argument.

I take the same view about morality and I take the same view about law.

Now, if that is your view, if, like me, you think that a skeptical claim is just another moral claim that must be earned, then you don't get rid of skepticism. What you get rid of is bad arguments for skepticism, very fashionable arguments.

People say: "Cultures differ; therefore, there can't be any truth of the matter." Well, if the phrase "there is no truth of the matter" is itself a moral claim, not only do cultures differ about the truth of that claim, but almost no cultures have ever embraced it until, let's say, 19th-century France.

We get rid of bad arguments. But then we have a challenge: What's a good argument? How should we, if we feel as a matter of deep conviction that something is right and something is wrong, that justice requires a decent level of health care for all citizens, what makes that true if we think it is true?

My argument is that there are no sufficient conditions to prove that it is true and no sufficient conditions to prove that it is wrong; but there are unnecessary conditions: You have to be able to show that your conviction ties in with, reflects, and is supported by the rest of your convictions. That doesn't follow.

Here enters the hedgehog. The hedgehog is not a matter of taste, as Isaiah Berlin thought it was. The hedgehog holds the field because of the conditions that can make a moral or an aesthetic or a legal or a political judgment sound. There are no morons.

Therefore, only a kind of interpretive coherence will do. Only interpretive coherence will make you responsible. It won't necessarily make what you think true, because what is true is something that can't be proved; it can be felt, and it will be felt differently by different people. But you are not responsible unless you have taken some care to integrate your judgment on a particular matter with the rest of your judgments after reflection.

I call that process interpretation. I believe, and I have tried in the past to offer, a general theory of interpretation—not just interpretation of states and prior cases or constitutions, but interpretations across the whole range of the objects of interpretation that we encounter: historical epics, poems, plays, theological texts. We study these in every case through interpretation.

In this book, I try to offer a general theory of interpretation. I'll state my general theory crudely first. Interpretation aims to make the best it can of the object of interpretation. That's a little too crude—indeed much too crude, because it doesn't answer the obvious question: What makes a particular interpretation make a poem or a play or a statute look better?

In order to answer that question, I have tried to develop a theory of critical responsibility. People who interpret do so not as a game, most of them, but because they sense a responsibility, but they differ dramatically about what that responsibility is.

Take the case of lawyers. Take the case of judges on our Supreme Court. They interpret trying to make the best they can of our constitution. What they take their responsibility to be depends upon their theory of democracy, and they differ widely.

To simplify, we have two general theories of democracy in our culture.

One is a majoritarian theory that says what the people in the majority vote is for that reason what we are as a people committed to. There is a different theory of democracy that says that democracy insists that majority rule is imperative, majority rule is valid, only if certain conditions are met, only if certain rights, like the right of free speech and other rights I'll talk about in a few minutes, are met.

Judges who disagree which theory of democracy is the correct one will therefore disagree about their critical responsibility. Some will become originalists who look to the historical meaning of a phrase. Others will become advocates of what is sometimes wrongly called "the living constitution," which means they have to rethink moral issues for themselves.

In the case of poetry, which I discuss in the book at some length, critical responsibility is obviously different. If two critics interpret a poem, say Yeats's poem "Among School Children," and one is a Marxist, who thinks that the responsibility of a critic is to mine social meaning and reality from a classical poem, he will of course arrive at a different interpretation from that of a new critic or that of a biographer, for example, who will be much more interested in the details of a poet's life.

This doesn't mean that there isn't a best interpretation. It means that the question of what a best interpretation is must be remitted to the deeper question: What are a critic's responsibilities? That question evidently will fan out into aesthetic theory and also, as I tried to illustrate by citing the Marxist critic, into politics.

We therefore need a general theory of interpretation. In a large part of the book, I try to apply that theory of interpretation to our leading political concepts—the concepts of liberty, equality, justice, democracy—following the hedgehog and following the theory that by the nature of truth in this area, we must find interpretations of these important concepts that dovetail, that support one another.

It's a very widely held view that these concepts conflict with one another, that liberty can be had only at the expense of equality—Tea Party people insist on that, though they run it backwards: Liberty can be had only at the expense of equality. Democracy will mean injustice from time to time because a democracy means majority rule and the majority may reach unjust decisions.

Now, I think this idea of conflict is wrong. And it's not just wrong because I have worked out theories of each of these that as it happens don't conflict. I think, rather, that they can't conflict, we can't think that we hold all of these values, unless we subject them to an interpretation which I liken to the solution of simultaneous equations. We need a theory of liberty and a theory of equality which are drawn from each other, which don't conflict but which in fact support one another.

Now, of course, I can't just insist that that must be so. I have to show that there are indeed plausible accounts of these cardinal political virtues that in fact don't conflict with one another, and a substantial part of the book is devoted to working out independent theories of these basic concepts to show that they don't conflict.

One might say, for example, that liberty means the freedom to do whatever you want with what is morally yours. If that is right, then liberty and justice must be drawn together; you need a theory of each of them.

That will initially sound to you like that nasty Greek Procrustes, who had a bed and he loved to stretch people to fit it. I'm sure many of you now harbor the opinion that I am lopping or stretching these concepts so they will fit my paradigm. But in that case I can only urge you to follow my argument and see whether it doesn't produce the only kind of an interpretation which can bring us confidence, which is one that solves the simultaneous equations.

The important concept for our politics now is the concept of equality. I'll have to spend a few minutes now explaining how I think we should understand that concept.

Political philosophers have written about equality from both the left and the right, from the liberal position and the conservative position, as if it was perfectly clear what equality means: Equality means everybody has the same of something as everybody else; everybody has the same bank account wealth, or everyone has the same happiness, or everyone achieves the same success in life.

These are all theories that you will find in the philosophical literature. Generally, as soon as someone offers a theory of that kind—equality means everybody has the same amount of money—it will follow that equality is not a very compelling ideal.

So I want to start rather differently. I want to start with a general account of political obligation, of what a state, in particular, owes to its citizens, and see what conception of equality follows from understanding politics at that deep level.

Coercive government—and that means all government of anything larger than the Carnegie Council—needs a justification that explains why it isn't a terminal insult to human dignity to force somebody to do what he thinks wrong, as of course government must do.

I argue that government lacks moral title to coerce unless it respects the dignity of its subjects. I argue for a theory of dignity that comes to this: There is a basic condition of political legitimacy. No government is legitimate unless it meets that condition. Government must treat each and every person over whom it claims dominion with an equal concern and an equal respect.

An equal concern means, I argue, that social policy must take the fate of each individual to be equally important with the fate of any other. So when deciding on a political policy, it can't discount the effect on some citizens. Obviously it can't do that because of their race, but it can't do that because of their economic class either.

Equal respect is a rather different requirement. Equal respect means that government must respect the dignity of each individual by allowing each individual to determine for himself or herself what would count as a good life, what counts as a successful life. That doesn't mean that we should be skeptical about that fundamental ethical question. It means that our idea of the good life includes as a cardinal condition that a good life means facing this question for yourself and arriving with conviction and living a life according to that conviction.

If I write a theory of equality—say, economic equality—must once again solve simultaneous equations, it must reach an economic distribution which at once treats everyone's fate with equal concern and respects people's responsibility to make their own decisions, that cannot be done by achieving flat equality. It can't be done by running the community as a Monopoly game in which all the money gets taken in and redistributed at the end of each year. It can't do that because that would be to make individual decisions about education, investment, and leisure completely pointless.

On the other hand, government can't just say, "We'll have a market, and wherever the market ends we will consider equal treatment," because people who are disabled or people who do not have the talent to make what the market demands will suffer, and they will suffer in ways that have nothing to do with the choices they made, have nothing to do with their own responsibility.

How do we solve this simultaneous equation? How do we treat people both with equal concern and respect equally their responsibility to make decisions for themselves?

There are two models on the whole, not necessarily liberal political theory.

One is the model of a social contract. That is, as you know, a model first presented by Thomas Hobbes, not a very liberal version it, and then over the centuries presented in different forms by John Locke, Emmanuel Kant, and in our day John Rawls, a celebrated political philosopher.

The other tradition is more recent. It's a Fabian tradition. It's a tradition that came to the United States in the administration of the New Deal, in Franklin Roosevelt's administration. It came to England a little earlier. That is taking social insurance as a model for economic justice. I think that the idea of insurance is one that actually does give us a way of respecting both.

I develop in these pages what I call a hypothetical insurance model for taxation. It's rather complicated, and the economic literature that it has generated is rather daunting. I can only understand about half of the economic literature telling me why I am right or wrong.

The basic idea is this. We don't aim to make people equal ex post—that is, after fate has decided whose investments mature and whose don't, whose education succeeds and whose doesn't, because that, as I said, would make it impossible to respect people's responsibility for their own lives. Rather, we try to make people equal ex ante—that is before any of these events occur.

How do we do that? By hypothetical thought experiment. Suppose people, average people, had equal amounts of wealth, and were insurance risks equal—that is, community rating, as they say in the insurance trade—suppose that were so.

What insurance would people at the beginning, at some notional beginning, buy if they didn't think they were any more likely to suffer disadvantages of these various sorts? They would not insure to the hilt, they would not say, "I want to be sure I earn no less than anybody else," because it would cost too much. They would have nothing left out of which to lead their life. The premium would be staggering. But they would insure if they were rational at a higher level than our tax system now guarantees.

My claim is that the only way for government to meet its condition of legitimacy adequately is by remodeling its tax and redistribution system to follow this hypothetical insurance scheme, to say to people: "We will guarantee that you will be no worse off than almost anyone, or at least the great bulk of people like you would have insured to prevent."

It's not too expensive to do that. It can't be too expensive because it is modeled on the insurance market. We collect from people in taxes the premiums that we believe people would have paid in this experiment and we redistribute to those who have suffered in the amount they would have insured to cover.

As I said a few minutes ago, the details of this are complicated and people disagree what the result would be. I mention it here to illustrate one possibility, it seems to me a compelling possibility, of how to respond to these twin demands of legitimacy on government.

What is the status of my claim that I have just made and the other very large claims I make throughout the book about what justice requires, what legitimacy requires?

As I said, the status of these claims is an interpretive integrity. We have a responsibility—philosophers have part of the burden of this responsibility—to think about these concepts in the way I have tried to describe. We have that responsibility simply as a matter of our ethical faith with ourselves if we want to regard ourselves as responsible. There is no shortcut. We can't say, "Our values conflict, so I like liberty," or, "I like equality." We have to think it through.

In the end, however, each of us may be responsible. We may compose and construct perfectly integrated interpretations which end differently. No doubt we often will.

At that point, to come back to the beginning of my remarks, we have to disown any kind of skepticism. Yes we must test our convictions, but if they pass the interpretive test and we hold these convictions authentically, then I would suggest to you that if you can't help at the end of all this but believe something, than you better believe it.

Thank you.

Questions and Answers

JOANNE MYERS: Each time you have been here, you have always challenged us to deliberate your ideas. I know this evening is no exception because you welcome that discussion.


QUESTION: James Starkman.

In your opinion, would the Constitution of the United States of America pass the interpretive test which you have set forth, and would our present tax system pass or fail that test?

RONALD DWORKIN: I'll start with the second. It would fail it. I can't understand how people with a straight face can say that people who earn a million dollars a year should have tax cuts. But no doubt some people in this room will disagree with me. We can discuss that. But I think no such scheme as we now have, or as some of the presidential aspirants threaten, would pass this test.

Does the Constitution of the United States pass the test? First I must ask you when, as amended to what point. Obviously, the original constitution would not pass the test.

But if you take the post-Civil War constitution, with the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, Fifteenth amendments, then yes, in my view, it does, provided it is interpreted correctly. It's a question not just whether it passes the interpretive test but how it passes that test. I would say that I would agree with some Supreme Court justices and disagree rather strenuously with some others about the correct way to interpret it.

QUESTION: Thank you. Ernestine Bradley from the New School.

The question I have is really an interpretation of your theory of interpretations, and probably a document of my not understanding. But the impression I have is that you are working with the assumption that there may be—this is my interpretation—absolutes with which one can work, such as justice. They may battle each other, the various interpretations, but that there is a core of an absolute.

My question is: Can you really as a philosopher work from this without—I don't want to say simply—but without adding yet another interpretation to the theories of interpretations, because the whole history of concepts like justice and so on are nothing but a theory, a historically confined theory? And my question furthermore is whether or not, instead of coming from the core of the absolute, there might not be an approach that restricts the parameters, and that that might then allow more leeway within the theory?

RONALD DWORKIN: I'll answer it in sections.

Do I think I am adding a new theory? Yes, I do. Of course I may be wrong. People very often claim there is a bit of originality. You shouldn't claim more than a tiny tincture of originality, and maybe I'm wrong to claim even that.

But I wouldn't accept, if that is the burden of your question, that we as philosophers or as citizens are required simply to pick from a menu of theories written by other people in the past. That seems to me quite against the spirit of treating responsibility as requiring interpretation.

Now, absolute. I have to ask you more what you mean by absolute. Words like "absolute," "universal," and "out there in the fabric of the universe" always puzzle me. If I am right about skepticism, then these are words generally used by skeptics to say there is no absolute truth.

What do they mean by that? Do they mean that the truth about this matter is complex and its application of some principle, say the principle that slavery is always wrong—someone might say, "That's an absolute principle," and someone else might say, "No, I can imagine circumstances in which it would be right to allow people to sell themselves into slavery, if they make their own choice." And another person says, "No, that could never be."

Now, we might describe that as a contest between someone who thinks that the ban on slavery is absolute and somebody who thinks that it is not quite absolute. Very well. These are two views about what is true.

Some people think that if I say something is absolute, I'm claiming it's a moron shining in the universe. No. I am just claiming that we have to see whether the best interpretation can defend the idea that slavery is always in all circumstances wrong. If it does, then we can help ourselves to the words—I never use it—it's absolutely wrong.

QUESTION: Thank you. Ari Melber with The Nation.

You mentioned insurance, and I wonder if you would share your views on not only how the Supreme Court should decide the health care ruling but, I think, knowing some of your writings more specifically, would you entertain a question whether it would be illegitimate for this court to determine that, in fact, Congress does not have the power to require insurance in a matter of life and health?

RONALD DWORKIN: Yes, I would say that that would not be a legitimate decision. It would be contrary to precedent. It would be, I think, as much a political decision as Bush v. Gore was a political decision.

I don't know of a legal argument that would square it. A government has required insurance in many different ways. The only argument I know is to say: Yes, government requires people to get insurance if they drive—but you don't have to drive; requires people to get insurance if they work through Social Security—well, you don't have to work. At some point that simply sounds silly.

The other argument that is used is an argument of liberty. Again, it is a very good illustration of why un-thought-out concepts that we haven't tested in the way I propose mislead us. What is the argument from liberty? It's anti-paternalist. If I don't want to insure myself, that's my business.

But of course it's not your business. Society will not let you perish on the street corner if you are in an accident. You may get very inadequate health care, but you won't be given none.

But, beyond that, the social cost, for example to the labor force, of people who lack insurance is enormous. So it's not just a question of your making a choice for yourself; it's a question of a social policy which prevents harm to the community as a whole.

There is hardly enough time to list the ways in which overturning this would harm the community as a whole. The price of medical care—I agree with the critics of Obama's plan who say that it doesn't do much to hold costs down. I think that is true. I think that something like the public option, as it was called, would have done more.

But it has helped the coverage problem. People who say it has done nothing I think overlook that. It has helped coverage. We need to do something about costs.

Anyway, the answer to your question is it wouldn't be legitimate.

QUESTION: Don Simmons is my name.

If a very substantial majority of the citizens of a given state want to secede from our Union, do you think the rest of us should permit that with some procedures?

RONALD DWORKIN: I don't think that the rest of us should accept it. This touches on a subject that I haven't written about, but I have participated in some discussions of it.

Scotland, which, because it thinks they've still got a lot of oil left, would like to leave the United Kingdom, and they will have a referendum at some point. I don't think they will vote to do it, but it will raise this question. I would think that it was not legitimate.

and Serbia—now we come to a very different matter, where the only way to protect a minority from terrible oppression is to give that minority its own territory and its own government.

I am just citing these to illustrate the complexity of the problem. I don't want to give a flat answer that would say nobody is ever entitled to do this. Sometimes it's necessary. We can talk about Northern Ireland, for example. But in the case of the United States, no.

QUESTION: Hi. My name is Abdallah Salam. I'm a grad student at Oxford.

My question for you is you spoke about coherentism and described your theory, I think, as coherentist and said that that was, of course, a necessary condition, not a sufficient one.


QUESTIONER: But then my question for you is: that, of course, would help you discard many rival theories that don't meet the standard because they are not coherent, or as coherent as your own. But there still would be many other rival theories that are as coherent as your own and yet have radically different content. So one could have a very racist theory that is very coherent.


QUESTIONER: And so what is it about your theory, in addition to its coherence, that should lead us to choose it over those other equally coherent ones?

RONALD DWORKIN: Its raw appeal. [Laughter]

I do accept your question. I don't think a racist theory would be a very good example. I wrote about that in the book. I don't think that can be made coherent. One famous Oxford philosopher tried, and I think he didn't succeed.

But certainly that's possible. I think I said that at the end of my remarks, that there are many perfectly coherent theories that survive the interpretation test, survive the authenticity test, and then what makes one better than another? All I can say is its truth. That is, what we can't say is that in those circumstances we have an argument that no theory is good.

Some people have thought if you can produce rival theories each of which is coherent, it means that there is no truth. I don't accept that, and I don't accept it for the reason I gave. That is itself a rival theory, substantive theory.

So all I can say is this is an independent realm. You have to study the matter and form an authentic conviction. Then you think it's true, and there is no reason. Someone says, "Here's another theory just as coherent." You say, "I see that, but I think this one is true." There is nothing more to be said, except to warn people not to draw a skeptical conclusion from that.

QUESTION: Sondra Stein.

In terms of moral and ethical responsibility, in the last years a great many of our manufacturing jobs have gone overseas and caused a great deal of suffering in our country. On the other hand, we have lifted, by doing that, millions of people out of poverty.

So where is our ethical responsibility? Is it to a human being in part of the world or to our own country? Where are the lines? We have our family, we have our friends, we have the city. How do you divide your moral responsibility or ethical responsibility? Where are the circles drawn?

RONALD DWORKIN: There are two arguments for allowing jobs to be exported. One is the argument you just mentioned, which I think is a good argument. The other argument is economic, that consumers in America, Americans that we should care about, will pay artificially high prices if we don't do this. So concern for our own citizens has two sides to it.

But I don't think the second argument, concern for our own citizens, should be decisive because our theory of justice might teach us—I think it would—that the people in low-paid jobs are more deserving of the government's concern because they suffer from less than equal concern.

So we are left with the question of international responsibility, and that is a tremendously difficult question.

My own view is, coming out of the theory of legitimacy I described, that citizens of one country do not owe equal concern to citizens of other countries. You can't say that we should count the fate of someone in sub-Saharan Africa as important as the fate in an American inner city. But we do owe them decency.

My own view is that we should increase foreign aid and support foreign aid institutions, but not attempt to reinstall tariffs on jobs. What we would hope piously—won't be for generations—is that living standards and living—we're beginning to see it now in China—where the aspirations of people abroad will decrease the difference between prices of labor in the countries. But that will take a long time.

I haven't answered your question, I know. It's a hard question.

QUESTION: Lou Kaflowitz [phonetic].

You make a case for a social insurance, such as Social Security, and that seems to be a very well-accepted program in this country. But as soon as you start talking about redistribution of income, which is the same thing, a lot of people get very upset. So how do you square this conflict?

RONALD DWORKIN: Thank you. Nobody in this room would get very upset, of course.

The only way to square it is to make an argument of the sort that I hinted at. That is, you have to go back and start with the condition of decent government, legitimate government, and then you say to people who don't want redistribution, "You owe us a theory of how we can achieve a right concern for everybody without redistribution."

Now, some people will say, "I'll tell you how. Liberty is the most important thing."

And you say, "Well, is liberty more important than equal concern?"

They say, "Yes. Our forefathers died at Bunker Hill for liberty."

Then you have to say, "Okay, let's think about liberty."

Is it an invasion of liberty to forbid arson or rape or kidnapping? Is that an invasion of liberty? It does cut down on freedom.

I won't continue, but the answer to your question is there is no shortcut. You simply have to produce an argument. And, very often, the people who say this are not in the arguing business.

JOANNE MYERS: You talk about truth and absolute value. Absolutely, it was wonderful to have you here, and that is the truth. Thank you very much.


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DEC 15, 2011 Journal

Ethics & International Affairs Volume 25.4 (Winter 2011): Review Essay [Abstract]: The Unity and Objectivity of Value

In "Justice for Hedgehogs," Ronald Dworkin boldly affirms the independence of arguments of value, arguments that remain securely within their own domain. Mostly, but not ...

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