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How Much?Why Some Things Should Not Be for SaleWisdom, Intuition and EthicsWithout ConscienceWomen and Borderline Personality DisorderWomen and MadnessWondergenesWould You Kill the Fat Man?Wrestling with Behavioral GeneticsWriting About PatientsYou Must Be DreamingYour Genetic DestinyYour Inner FishYouth Offending and Youth Justice Yuck!
Ronald Dworkin is one of the most influential
moral, political and legal philosophers of the last decades. Therefore, it is
perfectly justified that the Blackwell collection "Philosophers and Their
Critics", whose purpose is to discuss the work of significant living
philosophers, devotes him a substantial book. The book provides an in-depth,
analytical discussion of Ronald Dworkin's moral, legal, and political
philosophical writings, together with Dworkin's answers to each paper.
It is, on the whole, an excellent collection, even
if the quality of the various papers is somewhat uneven (but such a state of
affairs is generally the case with such books). However, it is fair to say that
this book is not intended to a large audience: apart from scholars and graduate
students, I'm afraid that nobody will gain much profit from the reading of this
book, which presupposes a fairly good knowledge not only of Dworkin's thought,
but also of the main debates of current political, moral and legal philosophy.
The book is divided into four parts (I leave
aside part V (pp. 337-395), which contains Dworkin's answers). Part I contains
six papers and focuses on Dworkin's account of political morality (most notably
his discussion on equality) explored in his two collections of papers, A Matter of Principle (Harvard University Press, 1985), and
Sovereign Virtue (Harvard University
In a long and stimulating paper
("Expensive Taste Rides Again", pp. 3-29), G. A. Cohen reaffirms
his allegiance to "equality of access to advantage": according to
Cohenian welfarism, there must be government compensation for expensive tastes
(by "expensive taste", Cohen doesn't mean some kind of snobbism, but
only the technical sense according to which a person has expensive tastes if it
costs more to provide that person than to provide others with given levels of
satisfactions). Cohen's argument is much impressive, even it may not be wholly
successful. Anyway, Dworkin remains unconvinced, since he thinks Cohen's thesis
presupposes that welfare can supply a metric for equality or justice -- an idea
rejected by Dworkin.
Miriam Cohen Christofodis ("Talent,
Slavery, and Envy", pp. 30-44) disagrees with Dworkin's theory of
equality, which she finds in the end not really egalitarian. According to her,
Dworkin assigns too much weight to the interests of the individuals who are the
more talented. I confess I find the contrary claim at least as plausible as
Cohen Christofodis', but a discussion would be out of place here.
In one of the most stimulating and well-argued
papers of the collection ("Equality of Resources Versus Undominated
Diversity", pp. 45-69), Philippe Van Parijs examines the following
question: what does it mean to give due weight to the claims of people who
suffer deficits in their natural endowments, for example the handicapped, the
poorly talented or those with a lesser endowment of "natural primary
goods"? Even if Van Parijs shares many ideas with Dworkin, he rejects his
solutions and, following Bruce Ackerman's notion of undominated genetic
diversity, forcefully argues for an unconditional income as a solution to such
problems -- a suggestion he has aptly argued for since quite a long time.
Michael Otsuka ("Liberty, Equality, Envy,
and Abstraction", pp. 70-78) expounds some qualms about Dworkin's
theory of equality: he believes that the reconciliation of liberty and equality
set out by Dworkin in Sovereign Virtue's third chapter is out of hand,
since it presupposes the compossibility of the satisfaction of the envy test
and the realization of the principle of abstraction. In other words, such a
compossibility requires a distribution that would be both envy-free and
maximally sensitive to plans and preferences.
In his "Cracked Foundations of Liberal
Equality" (pp. 79-98), Richard Arneson sets out an in-depth critique
of Dworkin's foundations of liberal equality. Dworkin had set apart the
"impact model" and the "challenge model" of the good life.
According to the first, the success or value of a life consists in the degree
to which the world is a better place for that life having been lived. According
to the second, the value of a life lies in its inherent value as a performance.
For obscure reasons, Arneson doesn't find the slightest appeal in the impact
model (which is rejected by Dworkin). However, he doesn't find, contrary to
Dworkin, the challenge model plausible either. His thorough critique of this
model is very stimulating: I don't know if Dworkin really confuses an admirable
life and a choice-worthy life, as says Arneson, or if his antipaternalism is
too extreme. What is clear, however, is that the theory of distributive justice
has not found the right way of splitting the difference between utilitarian and
Kantian accounts of morality.
Finally, Matthew Clayton ("A Puzzle about
Ethics, Justice, and the Sacred", pp. 99-110) wonders how far
Dworkin's rejection of state paternalism can support his liberal position with
respect to the "sacred".
Part II is made up of four papers that examine
various policy matters. Will Kymlicka ("Dworkin of Freedom and
Culture", pp. 113-133) discusses cultural structures, language and group
rights. He argues that Dworkin's theories lead naturally towards a liberal
justification for the rights of minority cultures.
Lesley Jacobs ("Justice in Health Care:
Can Dworkin Justify Universal Access?", pp. 134-149) has some
reservations about Dworkin's liberal egalitarianism: according to her,
Dworkin's approach is not compatible with a policy of universal access to
health care. More precisely, she argues that Dworkin's interpretation of the abstract
egalitarian principle (the idea that government must make the lives of
those it governs better lives, and must show equal concern for the life of
each) is incompatible with a policy of universal access to health care.
In their "Equality of Resources and
Procreative Justice" (pp. 150-169), Paula Casal and Andrew Williams
examine the beneficial and detrimental effects that procreative decisions can
have on third parties. They favour an asymmetric approach, and suggest to tax
parents who have children only when procreations threatens a public bad. The
paper is quite original in its line of attack, and is a stimulating application
of a resource egalitarian conception of distributive justice -- but is there a
sense to complain, as they seem to do, that the preceding generation's decision
to have more than fewer children has harmed oneself?
The next paper ("Morality and the 'New
Genetics'", pp. 170-192), by Justine Burley, is about advances in
genetics and the moral changes they may threaten. According to Burley, Dworkin
thinks that our morality, in the face of the "new genetics", may not
quite be up to the job, most notably because the new genetics undermine the
crucial boundary between chance and choice that has shaped our entire moral
experience. Burley has some reservations about Dworkin's reaction, and finds
his moral free-fall hypothesis unconvincing.
The three papers of Part III focus on Life's
Dominion (Alfred Knopf, 1993), a book where Dworkin examines the debates on
abortion and euthanasia. Seana Valentine Shiffrin ("Autonomy, Beneficence,
and the Permanently Demented", pp. 195-217) discusses Dworkin's views
about the connection between respect for autonomy and control over the end of
life. Dworkin argues for implementing advance directives that specify what
treatment should be given to people who have become permanently demented. For
various reasons, Shiffrin doesn't find Dworkin's reasons persuasive, and
questions whether we should abide by advance directives concerning conditions
of dementia. Many things revolve here around the way we describe the relation
between a healthy person and the same person suffering dementia. Dworkin's
argument assumes that the competent person and the demented person are the same
person, "the same, single object of ethical inquiry" (p. 367).
It seems that Shiffrin, even if she doesn't address this issue and claims that
she follows Dworkin here, wavers between various answers to this intricate
Frances Kamm ("Ronald Dworkin's Views on
Abortion and Assisted Suicide", pp. 218-240) considers Dworkin's
views about abortion and physician-assisted suicide. This paper is a revision
of an article previously published to which Dworkin had already responded. We
have here disputatio in bioethics at its best -- the main problem not
being the policy that should be adopted, but the rationale for it.
In his "Reverence for Life and the Limits
of State Power", pp. 241-263), Eric Rakowski feels uncomfortable with
the way Dworkin describes debates over abortion and euthanasia, as disputes
about an essentially "religious" notion, namely, the intrinsic value
of human life. According to Rakowski, Dworkin's distinction between intrinsic
values and personal interests fails to define correctly spheres of legislation.
Part IV, which contains four papers, discusses
Dworkin's legal philosophy. Leslie Green ("Associative Obligations and the
State", pp. 267-284) rejects Dworkin's account of associative
obligation and defends a version of the consent theory (the thesis that consent
is necessary for the obligation to obey).
Joseph Raz' "Speaking with One Voice: On
Dworkinian Integrity and Coherence" (pp. 285-290) -- a paper already
published in his Ethics in the Public Domain (Oxford University Press,
1994) -- examines Dworkin's attitude towards coherence as revealed by the central
chapters of his Law's Empire (Belknap Press, 1986), and has serious
reservations about it. Gerald Postema's paper ("Integrity: Justice in
Workclothes", pp. 291-318) discusses integrity and would rather side
with Dworkin, and not Raz, about the importance of integrity as a value of
political morality (to avoid some misunderstandings: integrity means (and only
means) that, through its officials, the community acts on a coherent set of
principles of justice, even when citizens disagree about what the correct
principles of justice are). Finally, Jeremy Waldron ("The Rule of Law as a
Theater of Debate", pp. 319-336) defends the idea that there is a
strong proceduralist element in Dworkin's conception of the rule of law.
As noted before, this book is not an introduction
to Dworkin's thought, contrary to (for example) Stephen Guest's Ronald
Dworkin, Edinburgh University Press, 2nd edition, 1998. It is a
technical and erudite examination of the main themes of Dworkin's philosophy.
As such, it provides a useful "inventory of fixtures" of the current
debates in moral, political, and legal philosophy, with an excellent
bibliography and web-bibliography of Dworkin's writings (pp. 396-404).
© 2006 Guillaume Dye
Guillaume Dye, Guillaume Dye, Ph.D., (University of Paris I Pantheon-Sorbonne), Paris, France.