A forthcoming book by Ronald Dworkin, Frank Henry Sommer Professor of Law, is the subject of a two-day conference at Boston University School of Law on September 25 and 26. Dworkin will deliver both the keynote address and a response to others’ commentaries, and the papers and proceedings will be published in the Boston University Law Review.

The book, Justice for Hedgehogs, derives its title from a phrase by the ancient Greek poet Archilochus: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.” For Dworkin, the “big thing” is “the unity of value,” and he advocates the integration of ethics and morality, the latter rooted in self-affirmation rather than self-abnegation. He also discusses living well and moral duties to others, as well as the idea that law is a part of political morality.

The conference, which will examine five topics—truth and metaethics, interpretation, ethics and free will, morality, and politics and justice—includes 30 accomplished panelists from the worlds of law and philosophy, including University Professor Jeremy Waldron. Dworkin’s response to the panelists’ comments will conclude the conference.

In “Justice Sotomayor: The Unjust Hearings” in the September 24 issue of the New York Review of Books, Dworkin applied his legal philosophy to the recent Senate nomination hearings for Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. The proceedings, he said, illustrated “the silly and democratically harmful fiction that a judge can interpret the key abstract clauses of the United States Constitution without making controversial judgments of political morality in the light of his or her own political principles. Fidelity to law, as such, cannot be a constitutional philosophy because a judge needs a constitutional philosophy to decide what the law is.”

Both senators and nominees, Dworkin argued, have “an overriding interest in embracing the myth that judges’ own political principles are irrelevant” in order to, respectively, win points with constituents and achieve confirmation. “So,” he added, “the minuet was choreographed, and any illumination ruled out, before the hearings began.”

On October 26 at the Library of Congress, Dworkin will deliver the inaugural Frederic R. and Molly S. Kellogg Biennial Lecture on Jurisprudence. In his lecture, “Is There Truth in Interpretation? Law, Literature and History,” Dworkin will discuss the philosophical aspects of the law.

Posted on September 24, 2009