Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 221

The themes of Taking Rights Seriously by philosopher Robert Dworkin are several, as the book is a series of essays. The pervasive themes include contradictions in matters of jurisprudence and an absence of philosophical legal doctrine, as well as utilitarianism (which, Dworkin argues, is fundamentally at odds with human rights). Discussions of these themes are situated in this work, which has its essential question: "what is the purpose of law?" Dworkin notes the conspicuous absence of constitutional philosophy. One particular context of this discussion is presidential nominations to the Supreme Court, but the larger problem is evident in lawyers' disagreements over fairness of certain laws or other conceptual disagreements of abstract concepts (such as "fault").

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In his first chapter, Dworkin acknowledges a paradox between, for example, the doctrine of jurisprudence, which claims that all men are innocent until proven guilty, and the equally popular principle that it is reasonable to make predictions based on an individual's belonging to a class (e.g., younger drivers having higher automobile insurance rates).

Utilitarianism (promoted in philosophy primarily by Kant, and, especially Jeremy Bentham) is not sufficient, according to Dworkin. Instead, moral rights must be substituted for the philosophy of utilitarianism, if we are to have a moral, just, and sensible legal system. The paradoxes that he outlines in his several chapters justify this need.

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