Ronald Dworkin Biography

Ronald Dworkin was an American philosopher, jurist, and scholar of the United States constitutional law. His teachings and writings on jurisprudence are still widely followed and are referred to by faculty and students of law, particularly in the U.S.A. His works interpreted the law in ways that could be understood by ordinary people. Inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt and the “New Deal” proposed by him, Dworkin came up with new theories and ideas. He challenged and criticized the prevailing philosophies of law and even those of his mentors. He was a promising student of law at institutes such as ‘Harvard University’ and ‘Oxford University.’ He taught at many prominent law schools, such as ‘Yale Law School,’ the ‘New York University Law School,’ ‘University College, Oxford,’ and ‘University College, London.’ He was conferred with a lot of honors in recognition of his notable ideas and contributions to the philosophy of law.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Ronald Myles Dworkin

Died At Age: 81


Spouse/Ex-: Irene Brendel, Betsy Ross (m. 1958–2000)

father: David Dworkin

mother: Madeline (Talamo)

siblings: Irene Brendel

children: Anthony Dworkin, Anthony Ross Dworkin, Jennifer Dworkin

Born Country: United States

Died on: February 14, 2013

place of death: London, England

U.S. State: Rhode Island

Notable Alumni: Magdalen College

Cause of Death: Leukemia

City: Providence, Rhode Island

More Facts

education: Harvard University, Magdalen College

awards: Guggenheim Fellowship for Social Sciences

US & Canada

Childhood & Early Life

Ronald Myles Dworkin was born on December 11, 1931, in Providence, Rhode Island, U.S., to Jewish parents Madeline (nee, Talamo) and David Dworkin.

His parents separated in his childhood. His mother was a concert pianist and worked as a music teacher to support and raise Dworkin and his siblings.

He graduated from a public school in Providence and earned a scholarship to ‘Harvard University.’

He graduated from ‘Harvard ’ with an AB “summa cum laude,” majoring in philosophy, in 1953. Prior to that, he was elected to the ‘Phi Beta Kappa’ in his junior year.

He attended ‘Magdalen College,’ Oxford, as a “Rhodes Scholar,” and studied under eminent law scholars such as Sir Rupert Cross and J.H.C. Morris. He then earned his BA with a “congratulatory first.”

He returned to the U.S. and graduated with an LLB “magna cum laude” from ‘Harvard Law School’ in 1957.


After graduating, Dworkin started working as a law clerk with Judge Billings Learned Hand of the ‘United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.’

Later, he rejected the offer to work as a law clerk with Justice Felix Frankfurter, though it was the path most law clerks aspired to follow during those days. However, he chose to go against the tide and work with a prominent law firm, ‘Sullivan & Cromwell LLP,’ in New York.

During his stint with ‘Sullivan & Cromwell,’ one of his clients was the prominent Swedish family known as the Wallenberg family. Owing to this, he had to travel often and spend a lot of time in Stockholm, Sweden.

However, on his wife’s insistence, he quit the job and became a professor of law at ‘Yale Law School,’ New Haven, Connecticut. He was appointed to the ‘Wesley N. Hohfeld Chair of Jurisprudence’ and also served as a master of ‘Trumbull College,’ a ‘Yale’ residential college. While at ‘Yale,’ in the late 1960s, he was at the forefront of striking a deal with a group of protesting students.

He was appointed to the ‘Chair of Jurisprudence’ at Oxford in 1969 and was later made a fellow of ‘University College, Oxford.’

He left ‘Yale’ in 1970, to teach at the ‘New York University Law School,’ upon the suggestion of one of his well-wishers, Arthur Schlesinger. He was made the “Frank Henry Sommer Professor of Law” at the ‘New York University School of Law’ and a professor of philosophy at the ‘New York University.’

After he retired from ‘Oxford’ in 1998, Dworkin was made the “Quain Professor of Jurisprudence” at ‘University College, London.’ There, he eventually became the “Bentham Professor of Jurisprudence.”

In June 2011, he started working as a professor at the ‘New College of the Humanities,’ a private college in London.

Published Works as Author & Editor.

‘Taking Rights Seriously,’ a book on the philosophy of law, written by him, was initially printed in 1977. It was his first and most significant publication as an author. ‘The Philosophy of Law (Oxford Readings in Philosophy), published by the ‘Oxford University Press’ that year, was one of his early works as an editor.

In 1977 and 1978, many of his articles appeared in technical law journals and the magazine ‘The New York Review of Books.’ His writings included his commentaries on the inconclusive judgment of the ‘Supreme Court of the United States’ on the “Regents of the University of California v. Bakke” case.

‘A Matter of Principle,’ released in 1985, was about moral philosophy and law sources.

His work ‘Law’s Empire,’ a detailed theory of law and a critique of the philosophy of legal positivism, was published in 1986.

His work ‘Philosophical Issues in Senile Dementia’ was released in 1987, and ‘A Bill of Rights for Britain’ was published in 1990.

In ‘Life’s Dominion: An Argument About Abortion, Euthanasia, and Individual Freedom,’ published in 1993, he attempted to find a middle ground between pro-choice and pro-life camps.

‘Freedom’s Law: The Moral Reading of the American Constitution,’ which was released in 1996, discussed the abstract nature of the American constitution.

In ‘Sovereign Virtue: The Theory and Practice of Equality,’ as the name suggests, he spoke about the theoretical definition of equality and the extent to which it was followed in reality by governments, societies, and people.

‘A Badly Flawed Election: Debating Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court, and American Democracy’ and ‘From Liberal Values to Democratic Transition: Essays in Honor of Janos Kis’ were edited by him in 2002 and 2004, respectively.

Released in 2006, ‘Justice in Robes’ was his opinion on how judges should pass their judgments. The same year, he wrote ‘Is Democracy Possible Here? Principles for a New Political Debate.’

Two years later, in 2008, he finished ‘The Supreme Court Phalanx: The Court’s New Right-Wing Bloc.’

Published in 2011, ‘Justice for Hedgehogs’ emphasized on the importance of reviving values that are eroding with the growing influence of science in every aspect of life. It was his penultimate work.

His final work, ‘Religion Without God,’ was published on January 10, 2013, a month before his death. The work highlighted his theory of theists and atheists and their belief systems.

Philosophy & Ideas

As a contemporary philosopher and an exponent of law, his contributions to the philosophies of law and politics were immense. His writings are still influential, especially in the law schools of the U.S.

some of his noteworthy ideas were the “law as integrity,” the concept of “fit and justification in law,” the “right answer thesis,” “legal interpretivism,” and “rights as trumps.”


The ‘University of Pennsylvania’ awarded him an honorary doctorate in June 2000.

In 2006, the ‘New York University’ paid tribute to him by dedicating its ‘Annual Survey of American Law’ to him. The same year, the ‘Legal Research Institute of the National Autonomous University of Mexico’ awarded him the ‘Dr. Héctor Fix-Zamudio International Prize for Legal Research.’

He was honored with the ‘Holberg International Memorial Prize’ by the government of Norway in September 2007.

His alma mater ‘Harvard’ awarded him an honorary doctorate of law in June 2009. Two years later, the ‘University of Buenos Aires’ awarded him an honorary doctorate.

He was honored with the ‘Balzan Prize for Jurisprudence’ on November 14, 2012.

He was also appointed as the “Queen’s Counsel.”

Family, Personal Life, & Death

Dworkin married Betsy Ross in 1958. In 1961, they had twins, Anthony and Jennifer. They remained together until Betsy died of cancer in 2000.

Dworkin later married Irene Brendel, ex-wife of acclaimed pianist Alfred Brendel.

He had homes in London, U.K., and New York and Massachusetts, in the U.S.A.

He valued the company of his friends and family, conversations, good food, beverages, music, and travel.

On Valentine’s Day 2013, Dworkin succumbed to leukemia. He was 81 at the time of his death.