March 22, 2011
THE TRAGEDY OF AN UNEXAMINED LIFE
Ronald Dworkin, Justice for Hedgehogs (Cambridge, Massachusetts, & London, England: Belknap/Harvard U. Press, 2011) ("Cultures have tried to teach a malign and apparently persuasive lie: that the most important metric of a good life is wealth and the luxury and power it brings. The rich think they live better when they are even even richer. In America and many other places they use their wealth politically, to persuade the public to elect or accept leaders who will do that for them. They say that the justice we have imagined is socialism that threatens our freedom. Not everyone is gullible: many people lead contented live without wealth, But many others are persuaded: they vote for low taxes to keep the jackpot full in they too can win it, even though that is a lottery they are almost bound to lose. Nothing better illustrates the tragedy of an unexamined life: there are no winners in this macabre dance of greed and delusion. No respectable or even intelligible theory of value supposes that making and spending money has any value or importance in itself and almost everything people buy with that money lacks any importance aw well. The ridiculous dream of a princely life is kept alive by ethical sleepwalkers. And they in turn keep injustice alive because their self-contempt breeds a politics of contempt for others. Dignity is indivisible." Id. at 422. "You will have gathered from Chapter 1 how I use the important words 'ethics' and 'morality.' An ethical judgment makes a claim about what people should do to live well: what they should aim to be and achieve in their own lives. A moral judgment makes a claim about how people must treat other people. Moral and ethical questions are inescapable dimensions of the inescapable question of what to do. They are inescapably pertinent even though, of course, they are not invariably noticed. Much of what I do makes my own life a better or worse one In many circumstances much of what I do will affect others. What should I therefore do? The answers you give might be negative. You may suppose that it makes no difference how you live your life and that any concern for the lives of other people would be a mistake. But if you have any reasons for those distressing opinions, these must be ethical or moral reasons." Id. at 25. Law students and lawyers should be aware that law schools disciplinary codes (even so-called 'honor codes') and the Rules of Professional Responsibility for lawyers qualify neither as as 'ethics' or 'morality' as Dworkin uses those terms. "Many people do believe, as I do not, that their racial, ethnic, religious, and linguistic connections bestow associational rights and obligations. Perhaps some of these convictions have a genetic foundation; if so they will prove particularly hard to ignore and perhaps pointless to disparage. But the idea of these special rights and obligations has been and remains a powerful source of evil. Throw a dart at a spinning globe, and the odds are good that it will land where tribes or race, religion, or language are killing each other and destroying their communities in the name of some supposed group right or destiny. These hatreds may be as enduring as they are destructive, and we should have no illusions that they will disappear or even ebb from human affairs but I insist that nothing in the arguments of this chapter lends them any moral support." Id. at 324. It is amazing how many students graduate from American law school with little or no exposure to the ideas of this important legal philosopher. For those who do plan to read Justice For Hedgehogs, see Symposium: Justice for Hedgehogs: A Conference on Ronald Dworkin's Forthcoming Book (special issues), Boston University Law Review, 90, no. 2 (April 2010).).