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especially relevant in today's divided political climate
on August 21, 2011
Dworkin begins with the premise that there are two fundamental values upon which our decisions as human beings and as Americans must be made: each human life is intrincially and equally valuable; each person has an inalienable personal responsibility for identifying and realizing value in his or her own life (choice). He argues that almost all humans in the United States (and other like minded western countries) would agree with these premises.
The rest of the book then is to show how if we accept these premises then we must agree on certain other policies: with regards to terrorism, we must not unlawfully hold anyone imprisoned; with regards to religion we must uphold a tolerant secular state (not a tolerant religious state); with regards to poverty, we must develop ex ante programs that provide "insurance" to all people that would be the least a reasonable person would expect for him/herself; and with regards to political structure, we must accept political argument and respect not just the majority rules.
Unfortunately, as well argued and reasoned as his positions are, the fundamental assumption he makes is not without problems. Would all people agree that those two principles are the MOST important? I think not. He briefly addresses those who would disagree (as he provides counter arguments for all his positions), but his attempt to argue us in to agreeing with these principles is not altogether convincing in and of themselves.
Clearly, many of us hold different fundamental principles (that we may not like to acknowledge--greed for example) but regardless of their error or unpleasantness, they will not go away in the face of reasoned argument.
Dworkin makes the mistake, I think, of using reasoned argument against people who are not remotely interested in the flaws in their logic. So, while I enjoyed reading the book and found it illuminating and something with which there is much to debate, I don't think the people who I would debate with would be those that disagree with the book (I don't think most of those people would bother to read it).