Saturday, September 12, 2009
Posted by Jeff Lipshaw
I wrote a short essay on this topic but I haven't posted it on SSRN because I've submitted it to a peer-reviewed journal, and they sometimes have funny rules on what constitutes "prior publication." (Although I'm delighted to have "Memo to Lawyers: How Not to 'Retire and Teach'" published in the North Carolina Central Law Review, the reason given to me by the Journal of Legal Education for not taking it even for blind review was that it had been "previously published" on SSRN.) Here's the abstract, and if you are interested in reading and commenting, drop me a note (it's 6850 words, or ten pages in law review format):
This short essay considers the essence of judgment, and concludes it is something very different from the lawyering or advocacy that is the archetype of the profession and its teaching methods. I consider the status of arguments from origin rather than validity as ones affected by power rather than critical judgment. I also consider the relationship between the experience of judgment and consciousness. Judgments are those things that occur in our minds, privileged to us, beyond authority, external truth-justifications, and power, whether or not we accede, in the solitude of our own minds, to authority, justifications, and power. Lawyering, or advocacy, is an external appeal to authority. It seeks to use argument, largely of origin rather than validity, to vanquish an opponent. It is a social and inter-subjective exercise. When we make judgments, however, we are completely alone.
One of the things I discuss comes from current debates in philosophy of mind - namely, how do we explain consciousness? This is an excerpt that pretty well capsules my meta-view of the debate:
As an outsider to the debates, for example, about the reducibility of consciousness, I admit they strike me as either as concluded or pointless as debating the truth of whether God exists. If I do not believe God exists, then nothing short of a booming voice from heaven is likely to persuade me otherwise. Either God exists or not. Speculating on whether we will ever discover whether God exists is simply a second-order debate of the first. My own intuition is that consciousness is one of the those mysteries of the universe we will get to about the same time we figure out conclusively the pre-Big Bang cosmology. That is, arguing the second-order issue is pointless. As soon as I see that consciousness can be explained scientifically, I will drop my skeptical intuition. This is a matter of belief that cannot get reduced to a truth beyond the empirical occurrence of the event itself.
The point here is that the default position for many philosophers and scientists is that we won't get these questions answered ever, or that debating them is useless, and the best we can do to ensure human flourishing (and the excellences, as Aristotelians say) is to debate with reasons. So it was with some delight that I woke up to a debate between Richard Dawkins and Karen Armstrong on the front page of the Wall Street Journal's Weekend Journal, on which I will pontificate briefly (is that an oxymoron?) below the fold.
Everybody knows who Richard Dawkins is. He's the author of The Selfish Gene and The God Delusion. I had not heard of Karen Armstrong before, but she's captured as closely as anyone has my own theological view. Here's my take on the debate in a nutshell. This is as unprovable as I suggest in the excerpt from the essay. But if I have to assess the reasons proffered in the debate, Armstrong wins. Why? Because Dawkins is a reductionist to physics. His position is that everything in the universe must be reducible to physics. It cannot be magic. If there were superhuman life elsewhere, we might to them as gods, but even they would have to be the product of the physical universe. Interesting. But nowhere does Dawkins address two questions that seem logically to remain: what's the source of the physical universe, and how do you respond to the mystery of consciousness, particularly to the contention that it, like God, seems to be irreducible, and that the second-order debate, like the first-order debate, is irresolvable?
Armstrong, on the other hand, puts the idea of God on its best footing, even though the headline writer got it backwards. The headline says "we need God to grasp the wonder of our existence." That's not Armstrong's point. Her point is the reverse - modern religion has dumbed down our sense of awe and wonder into God as a kind of human projection, rather than "a symbol that points itself to an indescribable transcendence, whose existence cannot be proved but is only intuited." I've written about this in terms of the Kabbalahistic Ein Sof (see image above) and Lurianic myth in Judaism, to which Armstrong refers in her essay. That is, every human conception of God that is more concrete than awe and wonder is essentially idol worship. I simply find that a better place to be than Dawkins' wholesale skirting of the issue.