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In Dworkin's view, law was infused with value and principle through and through. There was no algorithmic formula for distilling these moral values out of laws, no easy-to-apply rule for recognising their presence.

Religion without God

Legal judgment was a matter of argument and discernment, and the sensibility involved had to be partly moral but at the same time attentive in complex ways to what had been enacted and the significance of precedent decisions. They didn't just abandon the quest and start making new law at the first sign of difficulty. In a generous and good-humoured way, Dworkin practised what he preached.

He was not one to allow himself the last word in any controversy, let alone anyone else.

Religion Without God by Ronald Dworkin – review | Books | The Guardian

He believed that perseverance in argument — the worth of persevering in argument — was the best tribute to the rights and values and principles at whose altar, in a manner of speaking, he worshipped. His contribution, mainly in the pages of the New York Review of Books , was prodigious. Dworkin had a great faith in courts as forums of principled argument, and though that faith must have been shaken at times, he never gave up on the idea that the these institutions had a salutary role to play in a democracy.

Better still, he never gave up on explaining to his readers what was at stake in the decisions he described. You didn't have to agree with him to see the immense contribution he made by talking publicly about this. The courts matter to citizens, and so does the law their law — that's what he thought. We have nothing like that in Britain, no one of his stature and perseverance to explain in an informed and elegant way what the UK supreme court is doing or the European court of human rights.

Perhaps Stephen Sedley is beginning to fill this role, but no one has filled it for us for as long as Dworkin did for his readership in and beyond the US.

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I think that the crisis in this country regarding the legitimacy of the Strasbourg court has been aggravated by the absence of any such commentator, anyone who might have shown us regularly, on issue after issue, case after case, why the court matters here, why the issues that it confronts matter, and why the law that it brings to these issues matters too, in a way that admits of better or worse reasoning, right and wrong answers.

First, human life has objective meaning and importance. Second, the physical universe is something of intrinsic value and wonder. This broad and inclusive definition has a significant implication. Both theists and atheists can assent to it because it points to a shared, fundamental commitment that goes beyond their differences. In this sense, atheists can be religious, and religion does not necessarily require a god.

Because religious atheists lack a god who legitimizes those values and both creates the physical universe and endows it with sublimity and beauty, they need an alternative explanation. To that end, Dworkin offers a metaphysics of value before exploring the relationship between beauty and physics.


Although Dworkin does not embrace theism, his book is neither antitheistic nor pro-atheist. Rather, his novel definition of religion may serve as a way for theists and religious atheists to engage in constructive conversation. Dworkin, however, goes further. It seems not enough to maintain such values, even as one's central commitments.

The religious person takes such values to be "objective," "as real as trees or pain. The religious attitude accepts the full, independent reality of value. It accepts the objective truth of two central judgments about value. The first holds that human life has objective meaning or importance. Each person has an innate and inescapable responsibility to try to make his life a successful one: The second holds that what we call 'nature'.

The enchantment [that William James attributes to religion] is the discovery of transcendental value in what otherwise seems transient and dead. Trying to understand Dworkin's objectivity thesis makes the book intriguing and, for me, difficult. What is it to accept "the full independent reality of value"? Dworkin distinguishes two aspects of objective value: Another aspect of the reality of value for him is that nature is "not just a matter of fact but is itself sublime: Working through Dworkin's book has been a challenge, one that's not easy to explain.

The book has the feel of a series of arguments that are only partly developed. Perhaps this is a matter of its being posthumous, based on his Einstein Lectures at the University of Bern. Here's an example of what I found so difficult. In a discussion of the autonomy of various disciplines Dworkin makes the point that "there is no finally noncircular way to certify our capacity to find truth of any kind in any intellectual domain.

We find it impossible not to believe the elementary truths of mathematics and, when we understand them, the astonishingly complex truths that mathematicians have proved. But we cannot demonstrate either the elementary truths or the methods of mathematical demonstration from outside mathematics. We feel that we do not need any independent certification: But how do we know we have that capacity?

Only because we form beliefs in these domains that we simply cannot, however we try, disown.

See a Problem?

So we must have such a capacity. Dworkin is certainly right: But once we ask how we know that we have the innate capacities in question, we raise the sort of fundamental question that requires real work. It's related to the work Wittgenstein displays in On Certainty.

One cannot then simply say, as Dworkin does or appears to , that we have such innate capacities follows from our inability to disown certain mathematical and logical beliefs. Perhaps I don't have Dworkin right here, but surely more needs to be said. Understanding Dworkin's thought about religion is made difficult by his caricatured characterization of various opponent views. Here's what he says about naturalism:.

The religious attitude rejects all forms of naturalism. Some naturalists are nihilists: Other naturalists accept that in some sense values exist, but they define them so as to deny them any independent existence: The Universe," [3] Dworkin turns from the religious values that "fill the lives of ordinary people" to "the religious value of celestial beauty that intoxicated Einstein" p.

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He makes the point that evolution and the. This thought is not available to a naturalist. Only those parts of the universe that produce pleasure in our sight can be, for him, beautiful. He finds the universe as a whole an incalculably vast accident of gas and energy.

Religion Without God

Religion finds it, on the contrary, a deep complex order shining with beauty. Theists find it obvious why the universe is sublime: Dworkin's naturalist denies -- why need she deny this?

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In what follows I explore what I take to be at the heart of Dworkin's view of religion traditional and his own preferred religion without God: