UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Liberal equality rights : Ronald Dworkin’s jurisprudence Naylor, Joseph Alan


Ronald Dworkin has achieved prominence in the field of jurisprudence through his book, Taking Rights Seriously, (hereafter TRS) his many articles in the "New York Review of Books," and other publications that pursue a coherent philosophy for liberals. In response to criticism of his earlier work, Dworkin has expanded and clarified his liberal position on equality rights. This thesis will address how Dworkin's later writings attempt to fill in gaps that occur in Dworkin's first arguments for a hierarchical, principled picture of the law. It will be argued here that Dworkin's views require an unusual perspective on the concept of an individual, and this renders his rights-based political morality seriously deficient. The nature of Dworkin's theory is first indicated by an attack on the "ruling theory of law" which he characterizes as positivistic when asked what the law is, and utilitarian when required to decide what the law should be. His central criticism charges that legal arguments are incomplete without principles which refer to or are implications of rights. Dworkin's liberal political morality is founded on rights to equal respect and concern. The elaboration of what these rights mean is sustained throughout Dworkin's publications. He maintains that his liberal rights-thesis is the theoretical articulation of the constitutional right to equality. Applying Dworkin's rights-theory to the Regents of the University of California v. Bakke2 case illuminates many of the more abstract aspects of his views. This thesis will argue against Dworkin by focusing on the too-narrow conception of individuals implied by his theory of rights. The ideal Dworkin employs of a right to 'equality of resources' justifies an aggressive redistributional scheme, unchecked by a fuller conception of what is an individual. Dworkin is only able to hold his ideal of a right to 'equality of resources' together with his notion of individual rights by accepting a diminished concept of the individual. This argument suggests that a fuller conception of an individual recognizes the connection between merit and entitlement. Dworkin's scepticism regarding the feasibility of merit being protected by individual rights is undercut by introducing a distinction between merit and success. Leaving key aspects of an individual, such as merit and its related features, out of official deliberation about rights, conceptually inhibits the extent of individualizability in a rights theory. If we wish to maintain such features, and value their protection and cultivation by a political order, adopting Dworkin's rights-thesis and its consequences is impossible.

Item Media

Item Citations and Data


For non-commercial purposes only, such as research, private study and education. Additional conditions apply, see Terms of Use https://open.library.ubc.ca/terms_of_use.