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Ronald Dworkin Theory Of Law

Ronald Dworkin has based his theory of law on his on-going critique of positivist theories of law, especially the theory developed by Hart in “The Concept of Law”, as Dworkin believed that Hart’s theory was the “ruling theory of law”. Over the years, however, Dworkin's theory has evolved in the course of his response to critiques of his work or alternatively due to the fact that positivists in response to his criticisms, adapted the theory of positivism.

From the 1960's onwards, this evolution of the anti-positivist theory can arguably be said to have occurred in three phases. Although it is possible to look at Dworkin’s theory in various ways, this particular note will take the approach of understanding how these three phases of development in his theory evolved and changed while enriching his interpretive theory all the time focusing on his developing critiques on Hart’s work.

Ronald Dworkin’s theory of Law:

Ronald Dworkin was undoubtedly one of the foremost legal thinker who moved away from the influence of legal positivism which continued to be dominant even in its modified version in H.L.A Hart’s legal philosophy. Dworkin extended support to legal philosophy of Kant’s principles of morality and ethics. Human dignity which was central point of Kant’s legal thinking found a prominent place in Dworkin’s writing and in his major work Justice for Hedgrhogs (2011) he places human dignity as a hall-mark of his legal philosophy. He mainly focused on dignity, responsibility and free will in relation to freedom of speech, right to privacy and human rights.

Dworkin distinguished dignity from morality, in a very distinct manner emphasing that morality is other-regarding (i.e., objective) whereas dignity is self-regarding i.e., subjective. According to him, dignity implies individual autonomy which every individual must be capable of enjoying the way one wants to enjoy it. Generally speaking, dignity or dignified life implies living well.

Dworkin introduced 2 principles for living well, namely:

  1. Self-respect which requires to take one’s life seriously; and
  2. Autonomy that requires taking responsible decisions about oneself for successful in life.
     
According to Dworkin, these two principles of dignity do triple duty.
  • First, as a matter of personal ethics, they provide guidance about what we should do in order to live well.
  • Second, they elucidate the rights that individuals have against their political community.
  • And third, they account for the moral duties we owe to others.

The principles of dignity that Dworkin identifies might play a valuable role in these first two domains. But in this Comment, I will raise some doubts about the value of this “dignity framework” in the third domain, in explaining and grounding interpersonal moral duties. Specifically, the principles of self-respect and authenticity sometimes fail to justify the non-consequentialist positions that Dworkin wishes to endorse.

Moreover, even when these principles do plausibly entail moral duties of a particular scope, that scope is often significantly weaker, or in some cases significantly stronger, than many non-consequentialists would endorse. Through-out his writings on law and legal philosophy, Dworkin emphasized on utilization of law and legal system for ensuring human dignity which, according to him, is the foundation of all rights and liberties of people in all societies for ensuring peace and progress of every individual in society.

At the outset, I would like to clarify that while discussing a particular norm of law, the law per se is to be applied and, generally speaking, it is not the function of the Courts to look into the moral basis of law. At the same time, some legal norms, particularly those which are jurisprudentially expounded by the Courts or developed as common law principles, would have moral backing behind them. In that sense moral aspects of an issue may assume relevance. This relevancy and rationale are quite evident in the discussion about euthanasia. In fact, the very concept of dignity of life is substantially backed by moral overtones.

We may remind ourselves with the following classical words uttered by Immanuel Kant:

“We must not expect a good constitution because those who make it are moral men. Rather it is because of a good, constitution that we may expect a society composed of moral men.”
Dworkin's original critique of Hart's model of rules in "The Concept of Law" revolved around the role of 'rules and principles' in law among other issues such as the role of customs as well as the problems of judicial discretion and retrospection.

It is clear that Dworkin found Hart's theory to be “under inclusive”. This is due to the fact that, as per Dworkin, Hart fails to take into account concepts beyond rules and thus his “positivism is a model of and for a system of rules, and its central notion of a single fundamental test for law…forces us to miss the roles of...standards which are not rules.” In other words, by limiting the scope of law to only rules that can be identified by the rule of recognition, Hart fails to consider the role of the existing body of customs (for example the royal assent and other prerogative powers in the British legal system) in law, as well as concepts such as 'principles' that can influence judicial decision making.

While rejecting Hart’s ‘ruling theory of law’, Dworkin also rejects the reasoning of Natural Law theorists that there are predetermined, absolute and metaphysical moral principles which determine the moral standards upon which the validity of all human laws are based. He is also opposed to the view that there is necessarily a close link between justice and the law which Natural Law advocates.

Dworkin rejects such a proposition based on the concept that the fact of law is such that its validity must not be derived from the justice it can deliver or the injustice. It is therefore possible to observe that Dworkin’s place in jurisprudence is one where he is neither a natural lawyer, nor is it possible to say he is a legal positivist as he theoretically rejects some of the most common and basic views of Natural Law theories while also being very critical about the positivists. His theory thus provides students of jurisprudence a theoretical forum for a middle ground between the two theories.

Conclusion:
In conclusion, over the years, Dworkin's initial critique of positivism has been modified (almost beyond recognition) and has changed a great deal. However, the greatest change has occurred due to his adoption of the "utilization of law" ensuring human dignity as this phase of the theory has proved to be completely different from the first two phases in that Dworkin has inadvertently accepted a great deal of positivism in his critique of positivism, thus (in part) defying the purpose of this critique.

However, the theories he has formulated are no less important in the study of jurisprudence even if they have ultimately not been as helpful to Dworkin in criticizing positivism as one would expect. This is so because his approach involves a more mixed approach to legal theory. Neither major school of Jurisprudence (Natural Law and Positivism) is completely correct. Nor are these schools completely incorrect, and in effect, it is possible to try to reject some parts of the theories while blending other parts to have a more holistic approach in jurisprudence itself.

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