A New Guest Blogger

We have a new guest blogger: Jim Faulconer! Jim is a professor of philosophy at BYU. You can get a sense of some of his interests from this recent article by him in the Journal of Philosophy and Scripture. Russell ought to appreciate the presence of another non-lawyer on the blog, although we seem to be skewing toward philosophers, who I think of as kind of wanna-be lawyers…

14 comments for “A New Guest Blogger

  1. It seems odd to call philosophers wanna-be lawyers when most of those interested in philosophy among us are lawyers, if they aren’t philosophers. To bad the law got Nate. He could have been a good philosopher.

  2. Alas! I am condemned to be a mediocore lawyer…

    My problem with philosophy has always been that I am simultaneously interested in history, politics, and economics. Law, as it happens, turns out to be the intersection of these disciplines along with philosophy. In other words, it is the perfect home for the dillettentte (sp?), which is of course what I am!

  3. Dilettante.

    Law is the perfect discipline for those who like to skeeter over the deep waters of every discipline. It’s the last home of the generalist, and I love it. Also, if Nate’s mediocre, what does that make me? Hemiocre? Semiocre? Quasiocre? Yep, quasiocre.

  4. Law the perfect discipline for the dilettante? I find that generally the comments of all you lawyers are intelligent and well-rounded, but I have to disagree that a lawyer is the ultimate jack-of-all scholarly trades.

    I admit that the discipline of law is related to almost every field of study, but these subjects are not learned in law school! The lawyers I know who do law and economics, for example, either know economics from somewhere else or do it badly (usually the former). Legal philosophy is mostly the same way–everyone takes jurisprudence in law school but the lawyers who actually do it get philosophy from somewhere else. As for law and politics, legal realism or CLS, most of these people don’t really study political science even though they talk all the time about “the political”.

    Besides that, you have to learn all that procedural stuff which is of course very important for life as a lawyer, but not part of any scholarly discipline at all–rather it’s training in the workings of a particular legal system.

    I say political theorists or people in comparative literature get the dubious distinction of diletante! Political theorists have been awarded more grants from the National Endownment for the Humanities than any other part of social science and, needless to say, many more than philosophers or literature scholars have won from the Nat. End. for the Sciences. Also, in what other discipline are you required to learn both a foreign language, stats, and social science methodology?

    As for comparative lit., to do that adequately you have to do languages, ancient and modern, as well as world history, including the history of ideas, and some philosophy.

    No wonder so many of us indecisive grads from liberal arts strongholds like Williams, Oberlin, Smith, St. John’s College, Catholic University, and Hampden-Sydney fail to decide on one thing and go on to do political theory or comparative lit.

    Not that I like being a dilettante, at least not anymore; I’ve actually grown quite irritated with it all.

  5. I admitt that political theory is an odd duck. I have always thought the idea of requiring both Hegel and statistics is a bit…er…wierd.

    However, I compromise with no one on the claim that law school is the number one post-college dumping ground (and baby sitting service) for indecisive humanities majors. I was amazed at the number of very smart people that I knew in law school who ended up there because they didn’t know what else to do and had a vague suspicion of math and business. It was always so sad to see them all disillusioned when they discovered that in law school you study…er…law. No wonder there are so many depressed law students and lawyers. They end up studying a subject matter in which it turns out that they have little or no interest. (Of course the billables requirments don’t help.)

    The charge that alternative disciplines are not taught at all or are not taught well in law schools is fair. American legal education is an exceedingly strange duck. (Of course it was invented by Christopher Columbus Langdell, who was also an exceedingly strange duck, so perhaps that is appropriate.) Thus, I am more than willing to concede that most of what is published in law reviews is worthless, especially given that there are so dang many of them. I spent a year on the Articles Committee at the Harvard Law Review and got to read or at least see virtually every paper that appeared in any major law review that year. It was a bit depressing.

    On the otherhand, I am skeptical of the claim that legal scholarship is unusually bad. My general sense is that most scholarship that is done in most places is not that good. Thus, even work that shows methodological proficiency and good graduate training is…well…boring and irrelevent. Nevertheless, the myth of exceptional intellectual incompetence among legal academics persists among the rest of the academy. However, I have a niggling feeling folks end up comparing the middle or the bottom of one discipline with the top of another discipline. If most law and economics done by law professors is not great, Ian Ayers or Alan Schwartz (both of whom are JDs) are pretty good? While these guys lack some of the methodological sophistication of top notch theoretical economists, their knowledge of legal systems allows them to ask (IMHO) much more interesting and relevent questions about law. And as it turns out their economics is not that bad, so long as you don’t subscribe to the economics-should-become-just-like-theoretical-physics branch of the discipline. Finally, it is worth remembering that often times what legal scholars are doing is not a bungled attempt at some other discipline, rather it is a borrowing of concepts to solve distinctively legal problems. For example, scholarship on statutory intereptation has borrowed ideas from philosophical hermeneutics. I am convinced that some of this borrowing represented rathe bad philosophy. However, this doesn’t mean that it necessarily produced bad theories of statutory interpretation.

    Finally, my sense is that on average the IQ level among law professors is higher than the IQ level among academics generally. Legal academia is much more competitive. There are 168 law schools in the United States. How many history departments are there? How many political science departments? Furthermore, the pool of theoretically qualified people (ie those with a JD) is much larger than in other fields. Obviously, at hiring time law schools have very imperfect information about the folks that they are interviewing, but the raw force of the demographics in the market pushes up the raw quality of law faculties. This is by no means to say that law professors are exceptionally smart or that legal scholarship is exceptionally good. Niether statement is true. It just isn’t as bad as the political science professors complaining about law school salaries around the water cooler make it sound…

  6. Nate,

    Humanities grads (many very bright, many with advanced degrees) end up in law school because they realize it is impossible to do humanities for a living. It is impossible to get a position; once you have a position, it is impossible to get tenure. (Not to mention impossible to get the Ph.D in the first place).

    Imagine that the law market did not exist. No law firms. The only jobs for J.D.’s were teaching law. That’s the reality for, say, English grads. Cf. Leiter’s discussion of the difference in getting tenure in law versus philosophy.

    (I know, I’m overstating things a bit. But not by much.)

  7. Nate: I actually did not claim that legal scholarship is unusually bad, just that most of those who do the interdisciplinary stuff do it by supplementing their legal training with other disciplines.

    “The lawyers I know who do law and economics, for example, either know economics from somewhere else or do it badly (usually the former)”

    Russell: I admit that there is a difference between political theory and political philosophy, but I deny that I haven’t studied the latter, unless you mean by “political philosophy” what passes for such in analytical departments nowadays (three of the four members of my committee are in the philosophy department, two of them having joint appointments). I have problems with the way people get PhDs as “political theorists” in political science departments, but the work that goes on there is much better, philosophically, than disciplinary chauvinists like Brian Leiter will ever admit. But I’m sure you know this.

    Besides that, “political theory” at least presents the *possibility* of a normative or critical social inquiry informed by empirical social science. We haven’t adequately taken advantage of this possibility, I admit.

  8. Jeremiah,

    I agree completely with your point against Leiter. I was just having a little fun. I have complaints with BOTH the “political philosophy” taught in most of this country’s (as you note, predominantly analytical) graduate philosophy programs, and with the “political theory” taught in many of this country’s graduate political science departments. There is, I think, something which is distinctly and genuinely “political philosophy,” but describing what it is would take too long here. Check some posts from my blog from back in April, when I got involved in a discussion with Jacob Levy and others about theory vs. philosophy.

  9. will do; I’d like to hear what you have to say. trying to put my finger on something defensible which we in poli sci departments can call political theory or political philosophy has been a recent preoccupation of mine.

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