The Uncertain Relation between Coherence and Renown: Ronald Dworkin Reconsidered

24 Pages Posted: 30 Mar 2017 Last revised: 17 Apr 2018

See all articles by Andrew Stumpff Morrison

Andrew Stumpff Morrison

University of Michigan Law School; University of Alabama Law School; Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law

Date Written: May 10, 2015


This paper presents a critical reassessment of the legal philosophical writings of Ronald Dworkin, identifying fundamental difficulties and ultimately incoherency in Dworkin’s work. The author argues that not merely did Dworkin fail to establish, as appeared to be his most urgent objective, a universal connection between morality and the definition of “law,” but he failed, ultimately, even to stake out a comprehensible or consistent position on the matter. Starting with the difficulties that emerge from Dworkin’s original, explicit and implicit definitions of “legal positivism,” the paper traces Dworkin’s work through his doctrines of “interpretivism” and the “Rights Thesis,” identifying conceptual inconsistencies and failures of Dworkin’s arguments to connect to the conclusions that were apparently intended to follow. The paper finishes with extended discussion of Dworkin’s position on the issue of natural law, arguing that – after evading for most of his career the question whether an immoral rule can be “law” – Dworkin ended, in his final book, by offering an ill-conceived, conclusory assessment that stood in more or less direct contradiction to much of his previous work.

Keywords: Ronald Dworkin, H.L.A. Hart, John Austin, Jeremy Bentham, positivism, interpretivism, natural law, game theory, convention, command model

JEL Classification: K10

Suggested Citation

Morrison, Andrew Stumpff, The Uncertain Relation between Coherence and Renown: Ronald Dworkin Reconsidered (May 10, 2015). U of Michigan Public Law Research Paper No. 460, Available at SSRN: or

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