Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Practical and the Theoretical

Jason Stanley has an interesting piece in the New York Times (The Stone) about the false dichotomy between the practical and the theoretical.  He writes, "But once one begins to bear down upon the supposed distinction between the practical and the theoretical, cracks appear. When one acquires a practical skill, one learns how to do something. But when one acquires knowledge of a scientific proposition, that too is an instance of learning."  He continues, "when one reflects upon any exercise of knowledge, whether practical or theoretical, it appears to have the characteristics that would naïvely be ascribed to the exercise of both practical and intellectual capacities."  He adds, "I have argued here (and at length elsewhere) that once one bears down on the supposed distinction between practical knowledge and knowledge of truths, it breaks down. The plumber’s or electrician’s activities are a manifestation of the same kind of intelligence as the scientist’s or historian’s latest articles — knowledge of truths."

He concludes: "The distinction between the practical and the theoretical is used to warehouse society into groups. It alienates and divides. It is fortunate, then, that it is nothing more than a fiction."

While Professor Stanley doesn't mention legal education, I immediately thought about legal education as I was reading his article.  There is a false dichotomy between theory and practice in our field, too, and we must eliminate it if we want to improve legal education.

(Scott Fruehwald)

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