Sunday, May 09, 2010

A Philosopher on Lawyers (or Law Professors)

Being neither a serious nor a second-rate philosopher, I may not be the right person to adjudicate this little dustup:
[L]awyers. unlike serious philosophers [but. in this regard, quite like second-rate philosophers], do not actually seek to demonstrate the positions they defend. Rather, they aim to assimilate issues with which they are concerned to the existing structure of laws and precedents in hopes that courts will construe those issues in ways that favor their clients. For this purpose, lawyers need a large and versatile armamentarium of concepts. categories. distinctions. and argument-fragments with the aid of which they can articulate intuitions. convictions, or interests to which they are already committed. Both utilitarianism and cost/benefit analysis provide just such weapons to advocates of the left or the right, none of whom can be said ever to prove their positions, but all of whom gain argumentative leverage from their ability to embed their advocacy in a preexisting proof structure.
So Robert Paul Wolff. The first few sentences sound about right to me. But when he gets to the end, I think he may be talking more about law professors than to the person who tends to (as I think Rumpole once said) "a spot of indecency down at the Uxbridge Magistrate's Court." Even the superachievers who served apprenticeship at the low philosopher's table, once they get out there moiling for a buck tend to forget the refined the eminence of the seminar room. Or if they recall their academic roots at all, it is perhaps most likely to take the form of an Adam Smith necktie.

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