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Chapter 1- Ethical Theories- Ronald Dworkin: Taking Rights Seriously March 1, 2009

Filed under: itethic — hikaru011 @ 2:57 pm

Otsuka Hikaru


Book: Contemporary Moral Problems

Book Review: Chapter 1- Ethical Theories- Ronald Dworkin: Taking Rights Seriously

Library Reference: N/A

Internet Reference:


Learning Expectation:

  • I expect to learn people’s right


“On Dworkin’s view, if a people have a right to do something, then it is wrong to interfere with them. For example, if citizens have a right to free speech, then it is wrong for the government to interfere with them the exercise of this right, unless this is necessary to protect other rights. This notion of rights, Dworkin believes, rests on the Kantian idea of treating people with dignity as members of the moral community, and also the idea of political equality.”

Dworkin: “Does a man ever have the right to break a law… in the strong sense, so that the Government would do wrong to stop him, by arresting and prosecuting him?”

It is right for the government to stop you from yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre, and it might be argued that it is right to stop the Klan from burning a cross in a public space in front of someone’s house. Why? “The government may override that right when necessary to protect the rights of others.” (Dworkin, 409)

Book Review:

Dworkin says if a man has a right to do something, you should not stop him. For example, a man has a right to form an assembly; we should not interfere with him. It is his rights. But if the man obstructs other rights, then it is the time you can stop him. If he joined rally, and this rally violates the right of other people, you can prevent the man for exercising his right. I think what the quote above tries to explain is that as a human being, we all have rights. We all have the capability in exercising our rights. But we in doing so, we should not cause destruction to other rights and harm with other people.

The second quote says if a man break a law, the government will stop him. The means that the government will use to stop him may violate his right. If a man has been arrested, he can no longer exercise all his right. Do we have a duty to follow the rules that the government set upon us even though it overrun our rights? I think that it is our job, to follow what the government says. If the laws are for the common good, we must follow it. But if we think that these laws that the government imposed upon us can harm others and do no good, why should we follow? I believe that the government has the right over us. But we still have rights as a human. We should follow the rules set upon us because I think all of the rules that the government enforced are just rules to protect other’s rights.

Integrative Questions:

1. Is right important?

2. Do we need to follow the government?

3. Is it wrong to stop others when they’re exercising their rights?

4. Dworkin believes in what idea?

5. You can stop people who exercise their rights when..?

What I have learned:

As a human being, we all have rights. We can exercise our rights anytime but we need to consider that when exercising our rights we should not violate other rights.

Review Questions:

1. What does Dworkin mean by rights in the strong sense? What rights in this sense are protected by the USA Constitution?

“If a people have the right to do something, then it is wrong to interfere with them.”

For example, we have right to speech, right to form association, etc. We can exercise our human rights and the government won’t interfere with us except if we violate other rights.

The American provides a set of individual legal rights in the First Amendment, and due process, equal protection, and similar clauses.

2. Distinguish between legal and moral rights. Give some examples of legal rights that are not moral rights, and moral rights that are not legal rights.

Legal right is the right of a citizen protected by a constitution. Moral right is right of a person according to his morality and conscience. Not all legal rights, or even constitutional rights, represent moral rights against the government.

An example that I can give is abortion. In some countries like China, I think, abortion is legal, but morally speaking, abortion is wrong. Euthanasia or mercy killing is legally acceptable by the society but still immoral for others.

3. What are the two models of how a government might define the rights of its citizens? Which does Dworkin find more attractive?

  • The first model recommends striking a balance between rights of the individual and the demands of society
  • The second one is that the government inflates a right.

Dworkin finds the second model more attractive because the first one is false in a sense that the right is important but unfortunately not.

4. According to Dworkin, what two important ideas are behind the institution of rights?

Act of faith by the Majorities and Minorities

Discussion Questions

1. Does a person have the right to break the law? Why or why not?

It depends on a person on how he wants to exercise his rights.

2. Are rights in the strong sense compatible with Mill’s utilitarianism?


3. Do you think that Kant would accept rights in the strong sense or not?



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