Thursday, December 7, 2017
Faulker University Professor of Law Adam McLeod hit a nerve when last month he published a speech he'd delivered to students in his course, Foundations of Law. Impatient with his students' tendency to express "feelings" about topics or assume that they'd made an adequate case against an argument by merely dropping an "ism" such as "sexism," he took the time to lay some ground rules for the remainder of the course. Students were simply not to use "isms" when they contributed to class discussions; they were to define terms that they may have previously assumed admitted of only one definition ("equality" for instance); and, most notably, their professor warned them that if they began a contribution with "I feel," they'd have to cluck like a chicken.
In response to inquiries about the new ground rules, McLeod said: "I'm training lawyers here, and lawyers make arguments. Arguments consist of propositions and facts, or in other words, reasons...reasons don't always care how we feel about them...."
The whole speech is worth your time, but here's my favorite part:
Third, you should not bother to tell us how you feel about a topic. Tell us what you think about it. If you can’t think yet, that’s O.K.. Tell us what Aristotle thinks, or Hammurabi thinks, or H.L.A. Hart thinks. Borrow opinions from those whose opinions are worth considering. As Aristotle teaches us in the reading for today, men and women who are enslaved to the passions, who never rise above their animal natures by practicing the virtues, do not have worthwhile opinions. Only the person who exercises practical reason and attains practical wisdom knows how first to live his life, then to order his household, and finally, when he is sufficiently wise and mature, to venture opinions on how to bring order to the political community.
Cicero would be proud.