The search for the truth is a moral obligation

Honesty and friendliness do not contradict each other

A philosophical work of 700 pages, which consistently breaks down the specialist discussion into a further 100 pages of comments, in which the author takes his readers by the hand and develops his argument step by step, accepts possible objections and structures the whole thing with summaries and perspectives - literarily the American philosopher Ronald Dworkin standards! Dworkin is by no means just concerned, as the title suggests, with a theory of justice, but with the foundation of moral philosophy in general. Dworkin wants to prove the demanding thesis that the values, to which our reflection on morality is committed, firstly represent an indivisible unit and secondly are true. He thus distinguishes himself from postmodern and relativistic positions, for which values ​​are only valid for certain groups and differ depending on the place and time.

The "realistic" view that some moral judgments are objectively true can only be meaningfully defended through a moral justification of the substantive claim that certain concrete moral judgments - such as that tax evasion is wrong - are actually true, and even then, if nobody saw it that way. If we believe that there are good reasons for holding this judgment to be true, we must assume that we are somehow "in touch" with the truth about this question and that our judgment is not true by chance.

Dworkin introduces an important distinction to support this thesis: The truth of a moral statement is not measured - as is the case with a scientific truth - by the correspondence between statement and thing. For the statement that trees, for example, discolour their leaves in autumn to be true, there needs to be a reality that can be verified. For the question of tax evasion, however, there could be no equivalent in reality. The truth of a moral statement is shown by a good reason or the best argument. Ronald Dworkin's claim to truth comes out without any metaphysical ballast.

It is not of interest whether moral or ethical judgments can be true, but which of them are true.

In a dispute about moral demands, which tends to be irreconcilable, the best argument decides which demands are true and which are not. But it becomes more difficult than with the truth of moral statements with Dworkin's first thesis: the unity and indivisibility of values. For Dworkin, there are no contradictions between different values. He illustrates this with an example: A friend has written a manuscript and asks for the personal opinion of his counterpart. But he thinks the manuscript is bad. So he fluctuates between his demands on honesty on the one hand and friendliness towards his friend on the other. Dworkin asks:

Do honesty and friendliness sometimes contradict each other? Since the unity of values ​​is the central thesis of my book, I have to say no. Although we are constantly confronted with a new individual conflict, we can react to it by restructuring our terms, which is ultimately intended to eliminate it.

For the legal philosopher Dworkin, it is a task of interpretation to interpret the concepts of morality in such a way that all values ​​can be integrated. For the field of political philosophy, his main area of ​​work, Dworkin carries out this conflict resolution at least in part. For him there are two values ​​that are derived from human dignity and that are often viewed as contradictions: equality and freedom.

A government endowed with coercive violence is only legitimate if it tries to take into account the fate of all the people it governs and also to fully respect their personal responsibility for their own lives.

There is no conflict between equality for all and freedom for the individual, as both terms are interpreted in such a way that they can be reconciled with one another. In fact, this means that Dworkin's demand for equality is dimmed down to the very practical question of what provisions the individual would be willing to take if there were no state. What he would then be willing to spend on insurance, according to Dworkin, the state can collect and redistribute with taxes and social security contributions. Apart from the fact that this is an abstract quantity, the question arises as to whether the supposed compatibility of equality and freedom is more than a simple compromise between competing claims? Basically, it is to be welcomed that Ronald Dworkin argues against the thoughtless relativization of moral demands, according to which something that is valid for one group of people does not apply to other people. Dworkin is right when he insists that all moral debates are ultimately about truth claims. But they are just claims to truth. Even the apparently best argument for a moral demand cannot simply be equated with the truth; something that Dworkin also admits: For the integration of all values ​​into an overall system ...

... an interpretive approach is necessary because we have to try to better understand each value in all its aspects and associations in the light of all other values. We will never do this completely, and even if we all work together, we cannot be sure that we will be at least somewhat successful at it.

So if one can doubt the truth of the values, how much more then the supposed unity of all values. The interpretation or the dispute about values ​​does not take place in a vacuum: values ​​and their interpretation are shaped and enforced by certain people, groups or institutions in society who associate certain interests with them. Why then should the values ​​that arise in this way be indivisible and harmonize with one another without conflict? In a modification of Dworkin's pointed statement, one could say: What is of interest is not which moral or ethical judgments are true, but why they are held to be true where and when. A philosophy interested in the social emergence of values ​​can still be in search of the truth, but it does not have to constantly seek compromises for the sake of the supposed unity of values.

Ronald Dworkin:
Justice for Igel, Suhrkamp, ​​813 pages, 48 ​​euros
ISBN: 978-3-518-58575-7