Ronald Dworkin

2012 Balzan Prize for Jurisprudence

For his fundamental contributions to jurisprudence, characterized by outstanding originality and clarity of thought in a continuing and fruitful interaction with ethical and political theories and with legal practices.

Ronald Dworkin (*1931–†2013) has achieved in the course of an outstanding academic career a unique place among contemporary legal philosophers. His early seminal work, Taking Rights Seriously, published in 1977, presented new perspectives in relation to the most difficult questions then being debated in the field of Jurisprudence. These included the crucial relationship between rules and principles or the proper role of judges in interpreting the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Later, an impressive body of published research has succeeded in widening the scope of legal theory to encompass the fundamental topics of ethics and political philosophy, analyzed in the context of law and jurisprudence. These works include: Freedom’s Law (1996), Sovereign Virtue (2000), and most recently Justice for Hedgehogs (2011), a critical, historical and constructive analysis and synthesis of ancient and contemporary theories regarding values, brilliantly achieved by demonstrating the basic complementarity among them. The value of “human dignity” clearly underlies both the principles of “equal concern” and that of “personal responsibility”, the two pillars of Dworkin’s concept of legal values. From this perspective he develops an original theory concerning the relationship between equality and liberty, a classical problem in legal ethics. Dworkin conceives of Law and Morals as two distinct but strictly connected domains, particularly in relation to the difficult task of deciding cases. He has studied these connections in many of his works, including Justice in Robes (2006). The link between legal theories and concrete decisions is one of the reasons for the wide influence exerted by Dworkin’s thought, far beyond the secluded world of legal philosophers. Throughout his writings, his outstanding analytical and argumentative abilities are clearly on display and alive in the passionate dialogue carried on with many eminent proponents of the various major contemporary legal theories, among them Hart, Rawls, Raz, and Nozick. In the works conceived for a wider public, his style is always very clear and eminently readable. This is certainly the case in Law’s Empire (1986) and in his sharp reflections on American democracy and its critical aspects, in Is Democracy Possible Here? published in 2006. Ronald Dworkin deserves to be acknowledged as one of the pre-eminent scholars in the field of contemporary legal thought.

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