R.I.P., Ronald Dworkin

“Yes, man is mortal, but that would be just half the trouble. What’s bad is that he is sometimes suddenly mortal; there’s the rub!”

Woland’s grim words from Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita ring very true indeed today. Ronald Dworkin’s death this morning comes an absolute shock. Neither nor, I believe, anyone I know was aware that he was ill. He taught until last year at NYU, and was full of energy. The Colloquium on Legal, Political and Social Philosophy, which he ran (with Thomas Nagel) will remain a highlight of my time here, a weekly intellectual feast every fall semester.

I’m not the biggest fan of his ideas, but now is not the time for quarrelling with them. Whether he was right or wrong, he always forced us to think, and that’s really all a philosopher can hope for, not having the means to demonstrate the truth of his opinions. I’ll only mention here his latest work, which, fittingly, was a reflections on “Religion without God,” which I thought were very interesting. He argued that one could have “a religious attitude”―believe that values were real and that there was a meaning to life, and marvel at the universe―regardless of whether one believed in God. His Einstein Lectures, in which he expounded this view, and its consequences for constitutional law, are available here, and well worth a look.

I guess he has now found out whether he was right. It’s a real shame that he won’t be able to tell us, though.

UPDATE: the New York Times’ has now published an obituary by Adam Liptak.

UPDATE #2: The New York Review of Books, to which prof. Dworkin was a frequent contributor, has posted some of his essays here.

UPDATE #3: There are plenty of tributes out there now, but this one, by Randy Barnett, is particularly generous and moving.

Author: Leonid Sirota

Law nerd. I teach public law at the University of Reading, in the United Kingdom. I studied law at McGill, clerked at the Federal Court of Canada, and did graduate work at the NYU School of Law. I then taught in New Zealand before taking up my current position at Reading.

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