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Justice for Hedgehogs Hardcover – February 10, 2011

4.6 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


His masterwork. (Samuel Moyn The Nation 2013-10-15)

In a sustained, profound, and richly textured argument that will, from now on, be essential to all debate on the matter, Ronald Dworkin makes the case for…the unity of value… Dworkin writes as an applied philosopher; the topics he discusses are matters of practical importance. They affect whether and how people can give meaning to their lives. They make a difference in legislatures and courts of law whose decisions touch hundreds of millions of lives. That is what gives the overall argument its urgency, for Dworkin's principal aim in establishing the unity of value is the familiar and central one for him: to show how law and government can be based on political morality… He completes, in [the] final chapter, a chain of reasoning that can be seen as uniting convictions of personal morality with principles of political justice, and then showing how these are all gathered together in a larger system of moral ideals that he believes lawyers and judges must deploy in discovering what the abstract principles of the American Constitution really mean and require. We are in at the birth, here, of a modern philosophical classic, one of the essential works of contemporary thought. It is bound to be a major debate-changer, because even the many who will find much to disagree with—Dworkin, after all, disagrees with them in advance, and robustly—will not be able to ignore the challenges he poses. And out of the heat to come, much light will shine. (A. C. Grayling New York Review of Books 2011-04-28)

The most profound legal book of the season is Justice for Hedgehogs… This book is [Dworkin's] theory of everything and rests on the notion that 'value' is the one big philosophical thing… For the first time, all pieces of Dworkin's jurisprudential thinking fall formidably into place. (Richard Susskind The Times 2011-08-03)

[Dworkin's arguments] display great intellectual rigour… A daring and demanding treatise… Defining morality as the standards governing how we ought to treat other people, and ethics as the standards governing how we ought to live ourselves, Dworkin argues that living morally and living ethically are inseparable. What we achieve is less important than the manner in which we live our lives, and that is judged in part by how we treat other people. To live well, Dworkin writes, is to live one's life as if it were a work of art. In a work of art the value of what is created is inseparable from the act of creating it. A painting is not only a product; it embodies a particular performance. For Dworkin, it isn't the product value of a human life that is most important but its performance value. A life should be an achievement 'in itself, with its own value in the art in living it displays.' …Justice for Hedgehogs attempts to give human beings their due, not in any spirit of self-congratulation but so that we may build a better life for all. (Richard King The Australian 2011-03-26)

Justice for Hedgehogs represents a powerful account of what our moral world would have to be for our moral life to be harmonious. (William A. Galston Commonweal 2011-07-15)

The 79-year-old professor of philosophy's grand, perhaps culminating, statement of what truth is, what life means, what morality requires and justice demands… [Dworkin] builds up a comprehensive system of value—embracing democracy, justice, political obligation, morality, liberty, equality—from his notions of dignity and self-respect. (Stuart Jeffries The Guardian 2011-04-01)

The first thing to strike you about this remarkable book is its ambition… In Justice for Hedgehogs all of Dworkin's great talent is on display, the themes overwhelming in their sheer bigness. The basic point is that like the hedgehog in a famous essay by Isaiah Berlin, there is one big thing Dworkin knows above all else—it is what makes sense of how we act as persons, how we relate to others and how we construct our society… The nineteen substantive chapters stand as a great statement of a life well lived (and with, it is hoped, many years still to go). (Conor Gearty New Humanist 2011-03-01)

Justice for Hedgehogs is Dworkin's most ambitious book to date… It is full of sustained argument and arresting observations drawn from a lifetime of thought and a great armory of knowledge. (Jonathan Sumption The Spectator 2011-03-19)

About the Author

Ronald Dworkin was Frank Henry Sommer Professor of Law and Philosophy at New York University.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Belknap Press; First Edition (US) First Printing edition (January 11, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674046714
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674046719
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.5 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,160,054 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Ronald Dworkin (b. 1931) has enjoyed a long career as a writer on legal and political philosophy. In addition to his many books, Dworkin writes for a broad public in analyzing Supreme Court decisions in the New York Review of Books. The scope of his writing has expanded over the years. In his most recent book, "Justice for Hedgehogs", Dworkin broadens his scope from legal and political philosophy to address larger philosophical questions of metaphysics, interpretation and epistemology, and ethics. It is a challenging and wonderful work.

Dworkin's title derives from a famous essay by Isaiah Berlin "The Hedgehog and the Fox" taken in its turn from the Greek poet Archilocus who said: "the fox knows many things but the hedghehog knows one big thing." Berlin's essay was largely a defense of the way of the fox and of pluralism. It shows a healthy skepticism of any claim to know the single truth. Dworkin for his part takes the side of the hedgehog. Dworkin's basic claim is for what he calls the "unity of value" and the claim that people can work to ethical truth rather than to a variety of competing claims to the truth. In many respects. this may seem an audacious claim that goes contrary to much modernistic thought. Dworkin realizes and plays upon this and develops his claims slowly and carefully. In many respects, Dworkin draws heavily on modernism and modernistic arguments, especially in his emphasis on interpretation. He gives some ancient philosophical doctrines a modernistic turn. In reading this book, as with many philosophical works, it is best to read the introductory chapter carefully and return to it together with the concluding epilogue. Doing so will bring focus to the lengthy arguments and help the reader understand Dworkin's project.
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A Dworkinian statement is usually clear, sharp, and pointedly thought-provoking. This book contains 423 pages of such statements covering a range of subjects from skepticism to morality, living the good life, interpretation, dignity, free will law, and truth. Dworkin's thesis here is that all these abstracts can be unified and grounded on the value he described as "Dignity". By conventional interpretation of the phrase "A fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing", the fox hesitates to form one single, all-encompassing value that attaches to all things on earth. The hedgehog, on the other hand, believes that it has its thumb pressed against that solitary, centrifugal nerve and the value that controls all values. It is Dworkin's thesis that a single principle (which he identifies as "dignity") unifies all moral values. He claims that the pluralism of thinkers like Isaiah Berlin cannot be sustained, let alone function because one cannot have two values diverse but equally true. Dworkin does not mask his intention to show us that he is an hedgehog, but can he assume that role without grasping and reconciling the truth in all the disparate values that philosophers, scientists, and theologians, have hitherto been unable to reconcile? If Dworkin could, and had done so, one wonders if he might not have been, like Tolstoy, a fox who thinks he is an hedgehog? How strong is his foundation based on "dignity"?

To have expressed all his views as emanating from one stock value in such a relatively short book, Dworkin might have had to omit steps in arguments which, no doubt, his critics will pursue.
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Format: Hardcover
This is the one fact known by the hedgehog: some things are morally right and some things are morally wrong, even if no one agreed with the fact or no people existed to agree with the fact. How you live your life, treat other people, and construct a political state depends on this one fact.

If this thesis sounds like cowboy justice unfit for a philosopher, think again. Dworkin starts with a summary of the whole book and his motivations in chapter 1, and he methodically spends the rest of the book defending them.

This book is a philosophical essay, but a very readable one for anyone with a small amount of background knowledge. Dworkin takes extra care not to lose anyone along the way in unclear terminology, although the book may spark an interest in more reading you didn't know you had. The 400+ pages are are clear, detailed, and accessible to anyone who's ever even heard of Rawls, Kant, or John Stuart Mill. If you haven't heard of them, you may have to make a few trips to Wikipedia or to Intro to Western Philosophy 101, but Dworkin summarizes arguments for and against anything he discusses, so extra references aren't necessary otherwise.

Bottom line- if you believe the the hedgehog, read the book. If you don't believe the hedgehog, read the book.
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Ronald Dworkin, an NYU professor influential in the disciplines of philosophy, law, and politics, has written a monumental study in values theory, a monograph reflecting his life's work in all these areas. "Justice for Hedgehogs" boldly but responsibly challenges much, perhaps most, contemporary and conventional thinking regarding ethics, morality, and values and therefore is a potential watershed of new thought here.

Basing his title in a metaphor from an ancient Greek poem that the fox knows many things while the lowly hedgehog knows one "big thing", Dworkin sides with the hedgehog against the smug and relativistic fox. The "ordinary view" of the hedgehog--meaning a kind of intuitive view of the objective reality and relevance of values in individual lives and political society--is essentially correct, and therefore it merits sophisticated philosophical defense and explication. " . . . I believe that there are objective truths about value. I believe that some institutions really are unjust and some acts really are wrong . . ." (p. 7) Dworkin asserts " . . . that all true values form an interlocking network, that each of our convictions about what is good or right or beautiful plays some role in supporting each of our other convictions in each of those domains of value." (p. 120) To put this differently and as is often stated in in the text, there is a unity of all values, a unity which cannot be evaded by the wily fox without engaging in self-contradiction. All this strays far from orthodox positions found in learned circles. At the same time Dworkin disavows any dependence on metaphysics, scientism, or religion--his thinking is purely secular.
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