nl en

Morality, Truth and Interpretation


Admission requirements

Admission to one of the following programmes is required:

  • MA Philosophy 60 EC: specialization Ethics and Politics

  • MA Philosophy 120 EC: specialization Philosophy of Law, or Philosophy of Political Science


We often state value judgements in a matter-of-fact way. Murder is wrong. Mozart was a great composer. The Mona Lisa is a great work of art. It is bad to be lazy. Inequality is unjust. These judgements sound like they can be true or false. Is this the right way to think about value judgements, and what (if anything) could make such judgements true or false — in ethics, politics, or aesthetics?

Moreover, in making value judgements we often feel the need to weigh different competing values against one another. Do we want freedom, or equality? Beauty, or efficiency? How do we make these decisions? Are values commensurable? Do we need to fit all of our values – political, ethical, moral, aesthetic – in a single, coherent system, in order to make these decisions? Or are there value sets that are mutually incommensurable?

Ronald Dworkin, one of the figureheads in 20th-century political and legal philosophy, set out to answer both these questions in his magnus opus Justice for Hedgehogs, published shortly before his death in 2012. The book is neither about hedgehogs nor about justice for animals. The hedgehog refers to a line by the Greek poet Archilochus: the fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing. Dworkin thinks value is this big thing. He defends the controversial and unpopular claims that moral judgements have truth-value, and that there is unity of value, while proposing a method for finding ethical, moral, and political principles based on the idea of interpretation.

In arguing for a single, coherent system connecting all ethical, moral and political values, Dworkin goes against the prevailing pluralistic and compartmentalizing trend in theoretical and practical philosophy. Drawing on concepts such as dignity, responsibility, authenticity, liberty, and equality, he defends the idea that we have an obligation to live well, understood as the obligation to live authentic and dignified lives.

We will be reading Dworkin’s book cover to cover, supplemented by readings in (meta-)ethics, political philosophy, as well as epistemology and philosophy of science. Dworkin’s text will be our a starting-point for engaging with a number of contemporary thinkers, including Bernard Williams, Richard Rorty, Isaiah Berlin, Thomas Nagel, Alfred Ayer, and Donald Davidson.

Course objectives

Students who successfully complete this course will have good understanding of:

  • debates in moral-epistemology and value theory;

  • cutting edge foundational questions in moral and political philosophy;

  • Ronald Dworkin’s philosophy and some important competing views.

Students who successfully complete this course will able able to:

  • take a position on the the status of moral judgements;

  • understand and explain the main challenges and debates in moral epistemology;

  • critically engage with the professional literature on the truth and unity of value;

  • synthesize the key arguments and main disagreement in writing and presentations;

  • to read and take position with state-of the art scholarly literature in moral epistemology, and moral and political philosophy;

  • take a critical stance and solve puzzles on these debates, and display the capacity to present their stance in written work and oral presentations.


The timetable is available on the MA Philosophy website
MA Philosophy 60 EC, or MA Philosophy 120 EC

Mode of instruction

  • Seminar

Class attendance and active student participation is required.

Course Load

Total course load 10 EC x 28 hours = 280 hours

  • Attending seminars: 13 × 3 hrs = 39 hours

  • Preparation lectures and assignment: 20 hours

  • Study of compulsory literature: 120 hours

  • Writing of papers: 101 hours

Assessment method

  • Short mid-term paper (20%)

  • Final paper (40%)

  • Paper proposal (10%)

  • Class presentation (10%)


The final mark for the course is established by determination of the weighted average of several subtests (midterm, final test). A subtest can be graded as unsatisfactory.
Note: attendance is required – without sufficient attendance students will be excluded from submitting a final paper.


The resit will consist of a written final paper, which will have to be defended in an oral exam. No separate resits will be offered for mid-term tests. The mark will replace all previously earned marks for subtests. Students who have obtained a satisfactory grade for the first examination(s) cannot take the resit.


Blackboard will be used for:

  • announcement of our presentation schedule;

  • posting of extra material;

  • announcements re. planning

Reading list

  • Ronald Dworkin, Justice for Hedgehogs (2012).

  • Other readings will be made available.


Enrolment for courses and exams through uSis is mandatory.
General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch

Students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetables for and exams in the column under the heading “uSis-Actnbr”.

Registration Studeren à la carte and Contractonderwijs

Not applicable.


T. Meijers MSc, MA


Not applicable.