I am very grateful to Thomas Hurka for his penetrating and generous review. (Ethics, Vol. 122, No. 1) He asks a particularly important question. Does the interpretive method I advocate for the analysis of political concepts, which requires integrating each concept with others, actually add anything to the clarity, appeal or persuasiveness of my discrete political convictions? He suggests perhaps not: “It’s an open question,” he says, “whether Dworkin’s interpretive presentation of his own arguments really is the one that makes them the best they can be, or allows them best to further their central purpose of leading us simply and effectively to moral truth.” I will return to that open question after noticing some of the other questions Hurka raises on his way to that conclusion.
(1) He doesn’t accept my claim that moral judgments cannot be barely true. Particular judgment, he agrees, can’t be barely true, but abstract ones, like “pleasure is good” can be. I don’t agree. If “pleasure is good” is true for us, there can’t be another world just like this one except that pleasure is not good there. (There could be if moral particles made moral judgments true, but they don’t.) Still, he says, I might nevertheless be right in thinking that the only way to defend even an abstract judgment is through coherence. But I think he thinks that I think that coherence is sufficient for truth, because he says I never address the charge that it is not. I tried to be clear, however, that an entire universe of conviction can be coherent but false and insisted that authenticity, or a conviction of truth, is necessary for moral responsibility as well as the achievement of coherence.)
(2) He fears that my discussion of double effect begs the question. I just assume, he says, that there is a morally important distinction between your using my body by throwing it onto tracks to stop a train that would otherwise kill five people and your affecting my body without using it by switching it from a track to which they are tied to one to which I am tied. I do not, he says, defend the moral pertinence of that distinction. He does notice that I appeal to a general principle of dignity that forbids others to take over direction of my body, but he thinks that that appeal just repeats the question-begging assumption. This is a context, however, in which I think interpretation over a wider scope does add power to an argument. For I try to show the role that that general principle plays in a large variety of other contexts in which its use is not regarded as problematic, and then how it connects with other assumptions about the character of personal dignity such as, for example, the distinction between competition harm and intended harm. I suggest that the principle’s instinctive role in the often highly artificial double effect examples is a spill-over from its use in those other contexts. This may not be persuasive, but the book’s treatment of double effect in fact illustrates what the interpretive method can add to discrete discussions of separate problems.
(3) He next offers an objection to my interpretive argument that tries to unite ethics and morality. He says I just assume that these belong to the same larger interpretive genre or realm, but can’t defend that assignment because interpretation presupposes rather than accounts for a division into genres. I don’t agree. I concede that I could have been much clearer and said much more about this. But I did distinguish three stages of interpretation, of which the first is the assignment of an interpretive problem to a genre, and I insisted that, “Interpretation is therefore interpretive, just as morality is moral, all the way down.” I said that the first stage poses interpretive issues just as the other stages do, and that skepticism is possible, though not as likely, at the first stage as at the other two. (131). The interpretive test at each stage is the same: making best descriptive and justifying sense of the pertinent social practices. That test seems plainly to require taking ethics and morality to belong to a single interpretive domain: we deliberate about these matters, together, in order to decide what to do. A popular view (Hurka cites Sidgwick, as do I) assumes a conflict between ethics and morality. This would make no sense if they belonged to different realms; poetry can’t conflict with law. Conflict makes at least initial sense in these contexts because, as Hurka says, we can frame a challenge – What ought I all things considered to do? – that states a single problem to which concerns about my own interests and those of others might be thought to give different answers. So the interpretive method is essential to recognizing the possibility of a conflict so many philosophers endorse.
(4) I suggest that living well is more important than having a good life if the two ideals conflict. Hurka says that, unless I mean this as a tautology, it seems false. He says that Seurat would regret having decided to be daring if he failed to produce valuable art. Yes, no doubt. But he might also, and just as deeply, regret not having dared if he produced only successful conventional art. In any case, the question is not what he would regret but what he should. I do not say he would have lived better if he had dared but failed. I say only, safely, that we might think so if we value daring very highly. And I describe my claim that living well is prior to having a good life as my own controversial ethical judgment, not as something I have in some way demonstrated. I do, however, suggest an argument for that priority. I say (196) that we can explain why it is important to live well by treating living a life as a performance for which we can take credit if well done. We can then explain why it is important that one’s life be good by citing the requirement to make one’s life as good as possible, preserving self-respect, as part of what makes a performance of living good. But we cannot argue in the other direction. We cannot explain the importance of a good life – as distinct from an enjoyable one – unless we assume that more basic ethical requirement.
(5) Hurka next says that my argument connecting ethics with morality depends on a “slide” between two senses of “objective”: mind-independence and agent-neutrality. He apparently thinks I think that if moral responsibilities are mind-independent they must be agent-neutral as well. That is indeed a fallacious inference, but I don’t offer, assume or need it. Of course agent-relative obligations can be mind-independent. I discuss, across an entire chapter, several agent-relative responsibilities that I treat as mind-independent: my responsibilities to my promisees, family members and fellow-citizens, for instance.
(6) He concludes his discussion of my attempt to integrate ethics and morality by observing that my arguments are unlikely to convince anyone initially drawn to a view like Sidgwick’s that ethics and morality make different and competitive demands. I assume he includes my arguments (260-262) directly critical of that view; it would be interesting to know why he thinks even these have little persuasive power. He is probably right, however: even good arguments, which mine not necessarily are, have only very limited power to change people’s settled views on philosophical issues.
(7) That fact is pertinent to his most important observation, with which he ends, and which I quoted at the beginning of these comments. He wonders whether the interpretive structure I built in this book actually improves the appeal of the discrete moral and political opinions I defend. Would it not be better to present them independently, one by one, without all the philosophical background I constructed, so that they can sink or swim by their own immediate appeal? Perhaps; I claim no expertise in persuasion. But that is not the point of the interpretive method. I tried to explain this in Chapter 6. If the more general philosophical arguments with which the book begins are sound, then we all have an ethical and moral responsibility to try to integrate our disparate convictions so far as we sensibly can. Justice for Hedgehogs is both an argument for that responsibility and a response to it. Philosophers, I said, do have a particular responsibility in this respect. But that is a responsibility to attempt the integration not to present it in a way that persuades opponents. But of course persuasion would be nice; I write this in a rather desperate moment for American politics in 2012.