Ronald Myles Dworkin, FBA ( December 11, 1931 – February 14, 2013) was a Jewish-American philosopher and scholar of United States constitutional law and jurisprudence.
At the time of his death, he was Frank Henry Sommer Professor of Law and Philosophy at New York University and Professor of Jurisprudence at University College London, and had taught previously at Yale Law School and the University of Oxford, where he was the Professor of Jurisprudence, successor to Herbert Lionel Hart.
An influential contributor to both philosophy of law and political philosophy, Dworkin received the 2007 Holberg International Memorial Prize in the Humanities for “his pioneering scholarly work” of “worldwide impact.” According to a survey in The Journal of Legal Studies, Dworkin was the second most-cited American legal scholar of the twentieth century. After his death, the Harvard legal scholar Cass Sunstein said Dworkin was “one of the most important legal philosophers of the last 100 years. He may well head the list.”
His theory of law as integrity, in which judges interpret the law in terms of consistent moral principles, especially justice and fairness, is among the most influential contemporary theories about the nature of law. Dworkin advocated a “moral reading” of the United States Constitution, and an interpretivist approach to law and morality.
He was a frequent commentator on contemporary political and legal issues, particularly those concerning the Supreme Court of the United States, often in the pages of The New York Review of Books.
Ronald Dworkin was born in 1931 in Providence, Rhode Island, United States, the son of Madeline (Talamo) and David Dworkin. He studied at Harvard University and at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar and a student of Sir Rupert Cross.
After he completed his final year’s exams at Oxford, the examiners were so impressed with his script that the Chair of Jurisprudence (then H. L. A. Hart) was summoned to read it. Dworkin then attended Harvard Law School and subsequently clerked for Judge Learned Hand of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Judge Hand would later call Dworkin “the law clerk to beat all law clerks”—and Dworkin would recall Judge Hand as an enormously influential mentor.
While working for Judge Learned Hand, Dworkin met his future wife, Betsy Ross, with whom he would have twins Anthony and Jennifer. Betsy was the daughter of a successful New York businessman. They were married from 1958 until Betsy died of cancer in 2000. Dworkin later married Irene Brendel, the former wife of pianist Alfred Brendel.
Dworkin died of leukemia in London on February 14, 2013 at the age of 81. He was survived by his second wife, two children, and two grandchildren.