Saturday, April 30, 2005

Snack Time

There's not much time to read or write on this blog with the burden of finals weighing heavily upon the law school crowd, but I just thought I would post a tiny little "food for thought."

I had a recent conversation with a friend about the surprising lack of religious influence at this "Catholic" university. My friend remarked the following: "For a profession that is criticized for losing its way in a system that has eviscerated ethical standards, the moral compass provided by faith could guide lawyers in their search for justice."

Indeed, with the divorce of religion from legal reasoning, it is no wonder that so many lawyers have no coherent system of ethics. Before anyone takes up arms against me, this is not to say that religion should be taught in the law school classroom. I am just reflecting on the fact that if religion took a more prominent role in the law school culture, there might be some hope of producing lawyers who have a sense of right and wrong to guide them in ethical practice.


Charles Iragui said...


Andrew Baca and I talked about the same thing: Natural Law was practically thought up by the Catholic Church; how can it be that it is not taught here?

I have been disappointed by the lack of Jesuit stamp on the Law School. I went to G'town undergrad (a few years ago, it's true!) and the Jesuits were central to the education: my best profs were Jesuits and everyone was required to take 2 semesters of theology.

Perhaps we should tell Pope Benedict!



Frank said...


Whoever said the quote is obviously a genius. From the line's poignant message, I can tell that he is probably also charming, witty, and physically attractive.

Misha Tseytlin said...
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Misha Tseytlin said...

the term natural law was perhaps coined by Aquinas and co, but its intellectual roots are with Aristotle did not get his ethical bearings from religion. And that, I think, is the true problem. That people cannot find cause or reason to live an ethical life without religion is the true problem- in fact, some RELIGIOUS people have told me that they find claims of living ethically without revelation incoherent.

Religion can tell you many things- it can tell you to do good as some religiuos dogma would tell you- thou shalt not steal, thou shalt on kill... Or it can tell you to run a couple of airplanes into the twin towers. What we need in the legal profession, and in the world in general, is a return to the grounding of objective right and wrong in reason. That way, any religious intuitions, revelations people may feel they experience cane be checked by the reason that either we have (or, as some believe, that God gave us)...

Hoping that people will do the right thing because of religion is only contingent upon whether the religion being taught is in line with moral principles, which is contingent upon our using our reason to detect those moral principles in the first place.

So I guess my full response to Deborah is that rather than teaching religion or even legal ethics in law school- we should teach moral REASONING in all schools, at all levels.

Charles Iragui said...


The resistance you display is part of the problem: if the fact that the Catholic Church is a purveyor of religion means that its moral teachings must be silenced EVEN IN A CATHOLIC UNIVERSITY, then their is little that Christian moral/ethical teaching can contribute anywhere.

Rather than begrudge the Catholic Church its grounding in revelation, why not embrace its fearless belief that, because Reason will never undermine Faith, Reason should be used to search for the Truth, including moral truths.

Note well that I am not a Catholic.

As John Paul II showed so often, the Catholic Church can be the greatest bastion of Reason, especially moral reasoning. Why not acknowledge this stout ally rather than just denounce it for those areas of disagreement you have with it?


PS: Aristotle was not just a footnote in the works of St Thomas, but rather "the Philosopher" referenced in each argument. Perhaps the good saint also shouldn't be treated dismissively...

Misha Tseytlin said...

Thats a nice strawman argument- unfortunately it does nothing to address my point. Morality has primacy over religious teachings- i do not begrudge the catholic church as an institution of religious teaching- but the concern on this thread was teachign people to live more ETHICALLY, and the only way we can truely do that is by appealing to their reason to explain the grounds for determining what is and is not ethical conduct (even if you believe in revalation, the bible wont explain to you what to do in most legal cases you will actually face- you need to develop your own moral reasoning powers for that).

Charles Iragui said...


Ignorance is a poor base for argumentation; I have the, perhaps mistaken, impression that you have not studied either the Bible or Catholic dogmatic reasoning. Are you equipped to criticize what they suggest on ethical matters?

"Religion" as a source of ethical guidance is a nonsense. Only a specific religion could propose a specific scheme of ethical behavior; they do not concur amongst themselves so cannot be aggregated.

Whether or not you find their arguments persuasive or even worth considering, it is beyond dispute that religions do propose codes of ethical conduct. Perhaps you choose to make "ethics" into a non-religious word, but I hardly think that that is a standard usage which we all should be bound to accept.

In any case, the Catholic Church in particular, as opposed to just any religion, has since the time of St. Thomas explicitly adopted reasoning as a principal tool for explaining its views. You should in fact have no gripe with the Catholic Church as it, like you, dogmatically insists on reasoned argument, not simply scriptural justification.

Pax vobistum!


Misha Tseytlin said...

Again, Charles, you missed my point completely. I have no problem with the Catholic Church- if i were to be religious, I think thats where i would pick (becuase, as you said, they are the most reason-based religion). My only point is that to decide which of their ethics we want to adopt we have to look further than their dogma, and examine it on a netural basis. THAT is the kind of training lawyers, citizens, ect. need.

Charles Iragui said...


I think you are proposing simply that ethics be studied. You have what I would call a scrupulous moral/ethical approach to ideas and, my friend, to your life. If you were teaching this course, I would certainly be happy for it to be required study!

I simply observe that most people have not been able to come up with rigorous moral thinking such as yours. Most people either 1) have an ethical code given to them by their parents or religion, or 2) have a flexible approach to decision-making.

I would wager that courses on ethics, without dogmatic backing such as that nurtured by the Catholic Church's centuries of argumentation, would waffle on all the difficult questions. My PR course did this in essense, though the prof did have a strong ethical a priori: the good is to help your client not go to jail.

In reality, having people propose ethics at all would be welcome, even if it's not as rigorous intellectually as you are. So I do think hearing a Catholic critique of the law would have value, even simply as a point of reference. I find that too often there is an effort to silence presentation of views and the silence of the Catholic Church at one of its own universities is disturbing.