Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts

NOTE: I have not posted here recently because dealing with Leonard Roy Frank’s death and serving as executor for his estate was exhausting. Now that my life is returning to normal, I hope to post here frequently, often with brief comments about and links to items of interest.

Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts,” an essay in today’s Times, indirectly addresses why I did not want Birdman (Or the Unlikely Virtue of Ignorance) to win the Oscar: it reflects the trend toward amoral postmodernism that is widespread in today’s culture. But I had not previously realized how it has infiltrated our schools so thoroughly.

Raising a Moral Child

Moral ChildBy Adam Grant

What does it take to be a good parent? We know some of the tricks for teaching kids to become high achievers. For example, research suggests that when parents praise effort rather than ability, children develop a stronger work ethic and become more motivated.

Yet although some parents live vicariously through their children’s accomplishments, success is not the No. 1 priority for most parents. We’re much more concerned about our children becoming kind, compassionate and helpful. Surveys reveal that in the United States, parents from European, Asian, Hispanic and African ethnic groups all place far greater importance on caring than achievement. These patterns hold around the world: When people in 50 countries were asked to report their guiding principles in life, the value that mattered most was not achievement, but caring.

Are some children simply good-natured — or not? For the past decade, I’ve been studying the surprising success of people who frequently help others without any strings attached. As the father of two daughters and a son, I’ve become increasingly curious about how these generous tendencies develop.

Genetic twin studies suggest that anywhere from a quarter to more than half of our propensity to be giving and caring is inherited. That leaves a lot of room for nurture, and the evidence on how parents raise kind and compassionate children flies in the face of what many of even the most well-intentioned parents do in praising good behavior, responding to bad behavior, and communicating their values.

By age 2, children experience some moral emotions — feelings triggered by right and wrong. To reinforce caring as the right behavior, research indicates, praise is more effective than rewards. Rewards run the risk of leading children to be kind only when a carrot is offered, whereas praise communicates that sharing is intrinsically worthwhile for its own sake. But what kind of praise should we give when our children show early signs of generosity?

Many parents believe it’s important to compliment the behavior, not the child — that way, the child learns to repeat the behavior. Indeed, I know one couple who are careful to say, “That was such a helpful thing to do,” instead of, “You’re a helpful person.”

But is that the right approach? In a clever experiment, the researchers Joan E. Grusec and Erica Redler set out to investigate what happens when we commend generous behavior versus generous character. After 7- and 8-year-olds won marbles and donated some to poor children, the experimenter remarked, “Gee, you shared quite a bit.”

The researchers randomly assigned the children to receive different types of praise. For some of the children, they praised the action: “It was good that you gave some of your marbles to those poor children. Yes, that was a nice and helpful thing to do.” For others, they praised the character behind the action: “I guess you’re the kind of person who likes to help others whenever you can. Yes, you are a very nice and helpful person.”

A couple of weeks later, when faced with more opportunities to give and share, the children were much more generous after their character had been praised than after their actions had been. Praising their character helped them internalize it as part of their identities. The children learned who they were from observing their own actions: I am a helpful person. This dovetails with new research led by the psychologist Christopher J. Bryan, who finds that for moral behaviors, nouns work better than verbs. To get 3- to 6-year-olds to help with a task, rather than inviting them “to help,” it was 22 to 29 percent more effective to encourage them to “be a helper.” Cheating was cut in halfwhen instead of, “Please don’t cheat,” participants were told, “Please don’t be a cheater.” When our actions become a reflection of our character, we lean more heavily toward the moral and generous choices. Over time it can become part of us.

Praise appears to be particularly influential in the critical periods when children develop a stronger sense of identity. When the researchers Joan E. Grusec and Erica Redler praised the character of 5-year-olds, any benefits that may have emerged didn’t have a lasting impact: They may have been too young to internalize moral character as part of a stable sense of self. And by the time children turned 10, the differences between praising character and praising actions vanished: Both were effective. Tying generosity to character appears to matter most around age 8, when children may be starting to crystallize notions of identity.

Praise in response to good behavior may be half the battle, but our responses to bad behavior have consequences, too. When children cause harm, they typically feel one of two moral emotions: shame or guilt. Despite the common belief that these emotions are interchangeable, research led by the psychologist June Price Tangneyreveals that they have very different causes and consequences.

Shame is the feeling that I am a bad person, whereas guilt is the feeling that I have done a bad thing. Shame is a negative judgment about the core self, which is devastating: Shame makes children feel small and worthless, and they respond either by lashing out at the target or escaping the situation altogether. In contrast, guilt is a negative judgment about an action, which can be repaired by good behavior. When children feel guilt, they tend to experience remorse and regret, empathize with the person they have harmed, and aim to make it right.

In one study spearheaded by the psychologist Karen Caplovitz Barrett, parents rated their toddlers’ tendencies to experience shame and guilt at home. The toddlers received a rag doll, and the leg fell off while they were playing with it alone. The shame-prone toddlers avoided the researcher and did not volunteer that they broke the doll. The guilt-prone toddlers were more likely to fix the doll, approach the experimenter, and explain what happened. The ashamed toddlers were avoiders; the guilty toddlers were amenders.

If we want our children to care about others, we need to teach them to feel guilt rather than shame when they misbehave. In a review of research on emotions and moral development, the psychologist Nancy Eisenberg suggests that shame emerges when parents express anger, withdraw their love, or try to assert their power through threats of punishment: Children may begin to believe that they are bad people. Fearing this effect, some parents fail to exercise discipline at all, which can hinder the development of strong moral standards.

The most effective response to bad behavior is to express disappointment. According to independent reviews by ProfessorEisenberg and David R. Shaffer, parents raise caring children by expressing disappointment and explaining why the behavior was wrong, how it affected others, and how they can rectify the situation. This enables children to develop standards for judging their actions, feelings of empathy and responsibility for others, and a sense of moral identity, which are conducive to becoming a helpful person. The beauty of expressing disappointment is that it communicates disapproval of the bad behavior, coupled with high expectations and the potential for improvement: “You’re a good person, even if you did a bad thing, and I know you can do better.”

As powerful as it is to criticize bad behavior and praise good character, raising a generous child involves more than waiting for opportunities to react to the actions of our children. As parents, we want to be proactive in communicating our values to our children. Yet many of us do this the wrong way.

In a classic experiment, the psychologist J. Philippe Rushton gave 140 elementary- and middle-school-age children tokens for winning a game, which they could keep entirely or donate some to a child in poverty. They first watched a teacher figure play the game either selfishly or generously, and then preach to them the value of taking, giving or neither. The adult’s influence was significant: Actions spoke louder than words. When the adult behaved selfishly, children followed suit. The words didn’t make much difference — children gave fewer tokens after observing the adult’s selfish actions, regardless of whether the adult verbally advocated selfishness or generosity. When the adult acted generously, students gave the same amount whether generosity was preached or not — they donated 85 percent more than the norm in both cases. When the adult preached selfishness, even after the adult acted generously, the students still gave 49 percent more than the norm. Children learn generosity not by listening to what their role models say, but by observing what they do.

To test whether these role-modeling effects persisted over time, two months later researchers observed the children playing the game again. Would the modeling or the preaching influence whether the children gave — and would they even remember it from two months earlier?

The most generous children were those who watched the teacher give but not say anything. Two months later, these children were 31 percent more generous than those who observed the same behavior but also heard it preached. The message from this research is loud and clear: If you don’t model generosity, preaching it may not help in the short run, and in the long run, preaching is less effective than giving while saying nothing at all.

People often believe that character causes action, but when it comes to producing moral children, we need to remember that action also shapes character. As the psychologist Karl Weick is fond of asking, “How can I know who I am until I see what I do? How can I know what I value until I see where I walk?”


Adam Grant is a professor of management and psychology at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and the author of “Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success.”

Originally published by The New York Times on April 11, 2014. On April 14, it was #1 on the list of most emailed articles.

Morality and High Finance

By Wade Lee Hudson

One of the best analysts of the financial industry is James Kwak, co-author with Simon Johnson of The Baseline Scenario blog. On February 14, he posted “The Social Value of Finance,” which was a comment on a long paper by Sabeel Rahman, a Harvard Law fellow, on the moral implications of the financial crisis and the question of how to deal with banks that are “too-big-to-fail” (TBTF).

Kwak reported that Rahman “draws a contrast between a managerial approach to financial regulation, which relies on supposedly depoliticized, expert regulators, and a structural approach, which imposes hard constraints on financial firms.” Partly because this distinction resonated with the critique of traditional liberalism that I articulated in “Growing Compassionate Populism,” I read Rahman’s article and was very impressed with his analysis. I particularly appreciated his affirmation of the need for “moral judgments.”

When he granted me permission to quote from his paper, I was working on the submission to Netroots Nation for a panel presentation at their 2014 conference. So I asked him if he would participate on that panel. He said yes, and offered the following description of himself and what he would say:

Rahman (Harvard Law School and the Roosevelt Institute) studies the history of the Progressive movement, and the normative, legal, and organizing dimensions of economic reform. An effective movement for full employment requires a compelling moral narrative of economic progress. Rahman will outline how early twentieth-century progressive reformers faced a similar situation of widening inequality, upheaval, and political dysfunction. These reformers developed a moral view of the economy that catalyzed major progressive reforms in labor, consumer rights, and economic regulation. But progressive discourse in recent decades has largely moved away from this moral vision of the economy. Rahman will build on this historical account to suggest an account of economic freedom for our current moment—one that is distinctly progressive, and which can serve as the foundation for a more broad-based push for full employment, living wages, and an economy that realizes the full potential of all citizens.

Following is the abstract, table of contents, and conclusion of his (draft) paper, which is titled, “Managerialism, Structuralism, and Moral Judgment: Law, Reform Discourse, and the Pathologies of Financial Reform in Historical Perspective.”


Five years after the financial crisis, it remains unclear the degree to which regulatory reforms have succeeded in addressing the root causes of the financial crisis. This paper argues that ongoing policy debates about financial reform are undermined by a tension not between pro- and anti-regulatory views, but rather a deeper tension within reform discourse between two rival conceptual frameworks of how financial regulation should operate. The predominant approach to financial regulation in the United States, especially on matters of systemic risk and financial stability has revolved around a “managerial” approach that relies heavily on the ability of insulated expert regulators to optimize and manage the vicissitudes of the financial system. Although this approach may seem logical, it is nevertheless at odds with a rival reform discourse present today, and historically. In this rival approach, the emphasis is less on expert macroeconomic management, and more on “structural” regulations: reforms that impose strict constraints on the size and powers of financial firms, potentially at greater cost to industry but also more easily implemented.

This paper identifies this disjuncture between managerial and structural approaches in financial regulation discourse today (Part I). It then traces historically how the managerial ethic comes to dominate financial reform law and policy over the last century (Part II). In short, I argue that the gravitation towards managerialism stems from an underlying unease with making moral judgments about the social value of finance, and an overeager deference to financial innovation as an unqualified good. This avoidance of moral judgment in turn has created pathologies in the law of financial regulation, displacing a fundamentally moral and substantive judgment about the value of various financial firms and activities into proxy debates over, for example, agency jurisdiction, centralization, or the quality of regulatory expertise (Part III). These pathologies continue to constrain the effective implementation of financial reform in the United States. The paper then returns to some of the major financial regulation debates today to suggest that addressing issues like “too-big-to-fail” or new financial instruments necessarily requires making a moral judgment about the social value of finance — and that such judgments, once embraced, open up a range of more structural, rather than managerial, approaches to financial reform (Part IV).


I. The Discourse and Limits of Financial Reform
II. From Critique to Deference: A Brief History of Financial Regulation
Populists, Progressives, and the social control of finance
The New Deal Financial Regulation
From Consumer Protection to Financialization: Postwar Regulation
Setting the stage: deregulation
Moral judgment and the social value of finance
III. The Costs of Avoidance: Pathologies in Financial Regulation Law
From moral judgment to technocratic deference
Displacing the moral into the jurisdictionalFinancial regulation as an expertise-forcing inquiry
Financial reform in the courts
IV. Moral Judgment and Structural Financial Regulation
Too-big-to-fail as a moral category
“Speculation” and financial innovation
Finance as a public utility
V. Conclusion



In both the recent history of financial regulation and the post-crisis debates since 2008, there is a common tendency to turn to technocratic institutions as a preferred way to address controversial questions about what kinds of financial firms and activities we as a society ought to permit. But these are not purely technical issues to be resolved by neutral expertise. They fundamentally implicate moral judgments about what kind of economy we desire, and what kind of activities we value as a society. Furthermore, by transmuting these moral questions into technocratic ones to be judged by expert regulators, we do not resolve them. Instead, substantive concerns reappear through proxy debates over the scope of regulatory authority and expertise, creating an additional layer of formalism and contributing to some of the regulatory pathologies that helped fuel the 2008 crisis itself.

In the effort to avoid these moral controversies, policymakers and judges have routinely turned to centralized, national, expert-led organizations. By contrast, a more moralized engagement with the substantive issues of economic regulation calls for a different institutional structure, raising the possibility of more structural, rather than managerial, responses to the problem of TBTF: placing structural limits on the size and powers of financial firms; narrowing the scope for new financial innovations; or, in the extreme, regulating finance as a public utility. The above discussion does not suggest a precise answer to the problems of modern financial regulation—adjudicating between these more structural approaches is a task for another inquiry—but it does suggest three important implications.

First, in financial regulation as in other domains of economic regulation, ideas matter. Our responses to these policy problems depends as much on our normative and conceptual construction of the problems themselves as it does on the state of our technical knowledge.

Second, in engaging complex and controversial policy issues like TBTF, the allure of a purely technical, neutral managerial approach is largely illusory. Regardless of the state of expert knowledge or technocratic institutions, these issues will necessarily require moral judgment. Indeed, the effort to sterilize these questions of their moral controversy is ultimately counterproductive, for it creates problematic policies and institutional structures, and narrows the menu of available policy options.

Third, engaging the moral dimension of these issues more openly points us towards a very different institutional decision-making structure. If a technical understanding of TBTF suggests the need to prioritize and optimize technocratic policymaking bodies like insulated, expertise-based regulatory bodies, a more moralized view of finance suggests something different. Once engaged, such moral debate must be channeled through institutions where all affected interests can engage to voice their concerns, where there is a legitimate procedure through which these moral debates can be argued, judged, and revisited. A moralized understanding of economic regulation thus goes hand-in-hand with a more democratic structure for deciding these moral questions. This democratic structure reverses the features of technocratic governance described above. Instead of centralized, expert-led bodies, this democratic approach points us towards collective decision-making that is based on moral, as well as technical, reasons; that is participatory and representative, rather than expert-led; and that therefore may involve a more decentralized and politicized institutional form, rather than the centralized and insulated technocratic model.

These democratic institutional forms are therefore the other side of the coin of engaging the moral dimension of these policy debates. The ability to have this moral debate is in part a product the kind of moral vision that we as citizens are willing to entertain when we engage these kinds of issues, and partly a result of the institutional structure of policymaking. The purpose of these democratic structures is to make possible a productive, effective—but still moral and substantive—debate over the good economy and the good life. Ultimately, issues like TBTF require us to engage head-on a political project of reforming our democratic institutions—and constructing new ones—as a way to address the substantive concerns more fully.

Rahman, K. Sabeel, Managerialism, Structuralism, and Moral Judgment: Law, Reform Discourse, and the Pathologies of Financial Reform in Historical Perspective (December 16, 2013). Prepared for presentation at the Joint Program of the Financial Institutions and European Law Sections, AALS Annual Meeting, New York City, January 3, 2014, for the panel: “Taking Stock of Post-Crisis Reforms: Local, Global, and Comparative Perspectives on Financial Sector Regulation”. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2368292 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2368292


Fostering Deep Morality: Activist Empowerment

sunset's trumpet : plate from the children's story
torbakhopper / Foter / CC BY-ND

By Wade Lee Hudson

The Moral Monday movement that began in North Carolina is extremely promising. My hope is that it evolves into a nationwide movement that nurtures the morality of its own members as well as that of policy makers. If it does, the movement could become an even more effective instrument for changing our society for the better.

Moral Mondays has been applying universal values to concrete issues in a non-ideological, inclusive manner. As Rev. William J. Barber II, Moral Monday’s leader, stated during the closing speech at the February 2014 rally in Raleigh that drew upwards of 100,000 people:

We are black, white, Latino, Native American. We are Democrat, Republican, independent. We are people of all faiths, and people not of faith but who believe in a moral universe. We are natives and immigrants, business leaders and workers and unemployed, doctors and the uninsured, gay and straight, students and parents and retirees. We stand here – a quilt of many colors, faiths, and creeds.

So far the movement has been outer-directed. It talks about what they should do. The movement also needs to talk about what we should do.

We need to be inner-directed as well as outer-directed. We need to examine ourselves, notice our problematic tendencies, acknowledge our mistakes, and resolve to avoid them in the future. We need to support one another in our personal growth, community building, and political action. Doing so will enable us to better develop our personal and collective power.

We activists have done much to help this country live up to its ideals. Yet we often get wrapped up in our activism and fail to consider ways in which we can improve the quality of our work by becoming better human beings. We need to confront ourselves as well as the governing elites.

In a recent essay, Richard Eskow, Senior Fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future, addressed this issue eloquently on that organization’s blog. He quoted the phrase used decades ago by the Brazilian educator Paolo Freire, “internalizing the oppressor consciousness,” to describe what happens “when people identify so deeply with their rulers that they deny themselves the permission to work toward, or even to dream about, a better future for themselves.” Eskow called on activists “to remove those self-imposed limitations William Blake called ‘mind-forg’d manacles’” so they “can unleash [their] own imagination and courage.”

This “internalized oppression” is deeply embedded in our culture and ourselves. It affects all of us and drives away potential collaborators. The forms vary from person to person, but certain tendencies are common.

We tend to be judgmental, self-righteous, arrogant, harsh, and strident. We define leadership as the ability to mobilize others, rather than the ability to facilitate collective problem solving. We assume that some one person must always be in charge, so we rarely collaborate as equals. We’re afraid to be honest because we’re overly concerned about what others think of us. We get trapped in our anger and set aside the understanding and compassion that unites all of us. We forget to love the Universe and fail to enjoy our fellow activists, which leaves us less able to attract new members.

To overcome these and other hurtful propensities, we first of all need to admit them, especially when they shape our actions. This honesty can be difficult. The Swiss psychiatrist Carl G. Jung wrote:

Nothing is more feared than self-confrontation. Whoever looks into the mirror of the water will see first of all his own face…. The mirror does not flatter, it faithfully shows whatever looks into it…. This confrontation is the first test of courage on the inner way, a test sufficient to frighten off most people.

Then we need to admit those weaknesses to our colleagues, if only in small groups of trusted allies. Naming our demons is liberating. The Swiss psychologist P.W. Martin wrote:

Individuation [by which he meant full personal development] is not likely to come of itself. From the very outset anyone undertaking the experiment in depth is well advised to do everything in his power to bring into operation two great integrative factors: the fellowship of a working group; and the contact with the deep center.

Martin called this working group a “fellowship-in-depth,” in which a “mutual kindling of the flame can happen.”

Personal growth, community building, and political action are three sides of the same reality. The personal, the social, and the political are each inherently valuable. Each is both an end and a means. In a positive upward spiral, being more effective in each of these three areas reinforces growth in the other two. In cultivating all three simultaneously, we can build “holistic communities” as did Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Merely voting is not enough. We are also obligated to help improve public policies between elections. Merely taking care of our immediate family is not enough. It takes a community to raise a child well. Merely looking out for number one is not enough. Selfishness ultimately leads to emptiness. We need to follow the nonviolent Gandhi-King path and cultivate caring communities whose members are dedicated to serving one another.

In our modern, hyper-specialized, deeply divided world, trying to cultivate such communities involves swimming against the stream. To move in that direction, two elements could be helpful: 1) a brief written purpose embraced by community members that clearly commits the community to holistic organizing, and 2) a user-friendly method that self-organizing groups can easily employ to provide mutual support, similar to what Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) groups have done.

The closest manifestation of this approach that I’ve discovered so far is Mujeres Unidas y Activas, a grassroots organization of Latina immigrant women in San Francisco, which has “a double mission of promoting personal transformation and building community power for social and economic justice.” They are striving to fulfill their mission by:

  • Creating an environment of understanding and confidentiality
  • Empowering and educating our members to provide mutual support
  • Offering trainings to build economic security and leadership
  • Working in diverse alliances on the local, regional, national, and international levels
  • Organizing campaigns to win immigrant, workers’ and women’s rights.

Their methods include “mutual support meetings that provide a space for women to tell their own stories in a safe and confidential environment and receive support from other women who have had similar life experiences.”

The “Gift Circle” as practiced by the Gift Culture movement illustrates more concretely the kind of user-friendly tool that a grassroots holistic movement will need. As they describe it:

We always begin with some social time, hold hands around the table, everyone checks-in very briefly around the theme of the month, then we share a pot-luck meal for more connection and camaraderie. Eventually we circle up and begin the process. Going around the circle one at a time, each says what he or she needs. It always ignites a wonderful abundance of exchange. The riches of time and services offered range from window washing to book editing, from singing lessons to bereavement counseling. Someone acts as a scribe to record the wants and gifts, usually posting it later via e-mail.

Mujeres Unidas y Activas and the Gift Circle suggest how we could deepen and strengthen the growing populist movement and shift power away from the elites who dominate our society. Being an activist in the United States of America provides a “similar life experience.” If we develop a brief statement of purpose and agree on a user-friendly tool for conducting meetings, this commonality could be the foundation for a community of “activist empowerment” peer-support clubs across the country.

The time is ripe to create a more just and democratic society with the peaceful transfer of power and a compassionate populism rooted in deep morality.

Ronald Dworkin on Law, Morality, and Economics

dworkin_1-110713_jpg_600x624_q85The New York Review of Books continues to be my favorite magazine. It’s the only one I read regularly. Their 50th anniversary issue  was particularly rewarding. In that issue, they published “several essays on or by writers and artists whose work meant something to us when we started.” One of these essays was “Law from the Inside Out” by Ronald Dworkin, in which he reflected on the development of his thinking from the very concrete to the abstract. This progression led him to integrate “concrete legal issues, questions of personal ethics and morality, broad political issues of social policy, and the most abstract, rarefied philosophical and metaphysical puzzles.” His conclusion was that these issues are interconnected and cannot be separated.

Early on he addressed “how courts should interpret the abstract constitutional language” and “how should judges decide what the law of some nation really is on some particular subject?” One particularly influential theory of law, legal positivism, has answered “that what the law is on some subject in no way depends on what the law ought to be.” Rather, according to this perspective, “what the law is depends … not on morality, but only on history: on what people given the appropriate authority have declared it to be.”

This approach is rooted in “anti-realism in moral theory,” which is based on “a more general theory of truth we might call ‘scientism’.”

This holds that the methods of the physical sciences provide the gold standard for any investigation, that only when these methods are available is it proper to speak of truth. According to scientism, once we see that moral argument is not amenable to scientific methods, we must abandon the idea that there is truth in morality.

Dworkin argued that this philosophy

provides only an incompetent description of the actual practice of law. Lawyers and judges typically make claims about what the law actually is that cannot be thought to be grounded just in what authoritative bodies have previously declared…. [And] a judge who sentenced a defendant to jail while admitting that the judge’s own view of the law is only an emotional expression would probably be sent to jail himself.

He pointed out that “it assumes that we share the concept of law the way we share the concept of a triangle, that is, that we all agree on the tests to use to decide whether a legal claim is true or false. But we do not.” As an alternative, he presented what he called “an interpretative theory of law” and declared, “What law is cannot be separated completely from what it should be.”

According to this theory, “An interpretation must fit the data—it must fit the practices and history it claims to interpret—but it must also provide a justification for those practices. It must, as I sometimes put it, show the practice in its best light.”

Identifying what law is therefore requires “some justification, however weak, in political morality,” which is also required in “other domains of interpretation,” such as “artistic and literary interpretation.” He tried to “show how the ‘value’ theory of interpretation illuminates the agreements and conflicts among critics in all these domains.”

However, Dworkin reported, “Most influential moral philosophers have denied this. They insist that claims about morality … are not really judgments and so cannot be either true or false.”

Dworkin considered this “anti-realist” view to be logically incoherent. He nailed his case with this brilliant summation:

Consider the proposition that rich people have no moral duty to help the poor of their own community. If that proposition is not true, then it is not true that rich people have that duty, and that is itself a moral claim. If no moral claim can be true or false, then that one can’t be true either, so anti-realism is self-defeating.

But if one agrees

there is truth in morality and politics and therefore in law. It remains to ask what truth there is. What is a life well-lived? What duties do we owe as individuals to other individuals? What duties do we collectively owe to others in politics? What is justice? Liberty? Equality? Democracy?

Dworkin answered with “two fundamental principles that I believe can provide the most coherent and attractive answers to all these questions.” These principles, the most important element in his essay, were:

First, that it is objectively important—important from everyone’s point of view—that each human life succeeds rather than fails: that people live well. Second, that each person has a fundamental, inalienable responsibility to take charge of his or her own life: that it is finally up to that person to decide what living well would mean and to pursue that life.

He then rephrased these principles in the following manner:

I argued, relying on Immanuel Kant’s thesis that no one respects his own humanity who does not respect humanity in other people, that we can define what we owe to other people as part of what we owe to ourselves. The key is the idea of dignity: it belongs to our own dignity to respect the dignity of other people.

What is fundamental to private morality, Dworkin argued, forms “the spine of public political morality as well.” He then applies this principle to economics with this insight:

We achieve true economic equality, for example, not when everyone has the same wealth, no matter what decisions he has made in the course of his life, but when what one has depends only on those decisions, and not on good or bad luck in health, accident, or inheritance. That idea of equality ties together the moral ideal of personal responsibility and the political ideals of distributive justice.

Never have I seen such an important incisive overview of how the philosophy of truth, morality, politics, and economics must all be addressed simultaneously, with clear thinking and compassion.