Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Training Sophists?

Facultywhite_1Heath White (UNC Wilmington, Department of Philosophy and Religion) at PEA Soup has a post on why he is reticent about teaching ethics as a general matter.  His concern is that the methods of teaching moral theory cause ethical argument to trump ethical result:

What’s praised and blamed in the class is not the content of the answers students arrive at, but their methods and (even more) degree of polish in presenting them.  If I wanted to train eloquent sophists, this is more or less the method I would choose.

I liked the answer of one commenter:  "that most students come to the class as skeptics, relativists, or naive dogmatists. When they first encounter serious rational discussion of ethical questions, they end up finding vocabularies with which to articulate and defend their own moral beliefs."

Does legal training invoke this dissonance?  Isn't our primary focus, at least in the core 1L curriculum, on argumentation as much or more than substance?  Does that encourage a skepticism or relativism that is at odds with what students are expected to take from the implicit moral theory in legal ethics?

(That is a theme I have continued to explore over the past couple years.  I blundered through it in the 2004 article Alan has, inexplicably, decided to blog about today, without my knowledge, but our rule among co-editors is that we don't pull off other co-editor's posts.)

[Jeff Lipshaw]

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Are you suggesting that the skeptic or anti-foundationalist must accept your vision of "the implicit moral theory in legal ethics"? And that any deviation renders them mere sophists?

Posted by: Lee | Nov 1, 2006 6:32:57 AM

I think the argument that even legal ethics have no deontological source would be an interesting one. Make it and we'd be delighted to post it here!

Posted by: Jeff Lipshaw | Nov 1, 2006 9:04:43 AM

Again, I'm not quite sure I understand what it is that you are asserting. Deontological ethics is neither a self-defining term nor is it immune from criticism.

Further, the idea that legal theory and ethics talks in terms of the rights of others and one's own duties hardly establishes the foundations for those rights and duties such that they are immune to skeptical inquiry and critique - a critique that can't be walled off as mere sophistry.

Posted by: Lee | Nov 1, 2006 10:42:10 AM

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