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Unifying the Two Cultures in Law Schools

Almost seventy years ago, C.P. Snow famously warned of a split between two cultures in our universities and society. The first was the scientific culture marked by rigorous modeling and empirical methods. That culture itself divided into defined specialties. The second was humanistic culture marked by a focus on rhetoric and the evaluation of ways of life. That culture was less specialized because it wanted to try to answer some of the great human questions that knew no boundaries.

Snow oddly enough left out the social sciences in general from his schema and law in particular, although the protagonist of his most famous novel, The Masters, was an academic lawyer. But that same cultural divide replicates itself in many of the social sciences and especially on top law schools faculties today. One kind of legal academic is scientific, concerned with models and empiricism. Those working on this side have defined methods—well cultivated gardens of the intellect. And this scholarship tends to be positive, looking at how the world is rather how it should be. The humanistic kind of scholarship is more discursive, sometimes of a bit of jumble.  It is less specialized and tends to the normative.

Snow worried that the loss of a common culture would create cliques within universities and make it harder to solve social problems. Neither technocracy nor the refinement of moral ideals suffices to improve the world.  The danger besets law schools as well today, as the more scientifically minded and the more traditional scholars often appear even to lack a common language—a particular obstacle to unity because law is constituted in large measure by its own distinctive language.

What can be done to unite the two cultures at law schools? Personnel decisions are key. Appointments committees should make sure that prospective faculty members are open to learning about methods not their own. Candidates with only a PhD may well have trouble transcending their specialty and acculturating to a generalist atmosphere.   Possessing a J.D. as well as a PhD provides substantial assurance the faculty member will know the language of the law.

But Deans should also encourage scholars ignorant of the scientific approaches to law  to continue their education.  A few law schools, like my own and  the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University, offer rigorous boot camps for law professors in social science methods from causal inference to public choice.

Second, law schools must create a weekly forum for faculty workshops where all professors are expected to ask questions even about work that employs methodologies foreign to their own. We demand that our students learn about things they have trouble comprehending at first. The faculty needs to apply their own standards to themselves.  The most important way to merge the two cultures is to create a single culture where the desire for knowledge is the highest good.

Reader Discussion

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on April 10, 2016 at 14:55:05 pm

Citizen to citizen, I think the ideas in this post suggest a step in the right direction.

I offer some perspectives.

Scholarship could focus more on the people than the divided professional schools. "The most important way to merge the two cultures is to create a single culture where the desire for knowledge is the highest good," needs to focus not on the scholars' views of the highest good but on each person's view of the highest good at each stage of the person's life: childhood, student, young adult, adult in full service, retiring adult, and mature adult. Each person should be appreciated in each stage of life.

To me, for example, the highest good is private liberty with civic morality (PLwCM). "Civic morality" refers to justice and responsibility in living, or civic living.

Much as a person must earn his or her income to enjoy civic liberty, civic morality is a life-long obligation that empowers private liberty--the liberty to pursue personal interests, such as arts, religion, spirituality, understanding physics, pursuing a detail of physics according a scientific discipline, meditation, or whatever real-no-harm pursuit the individual prefers.

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Phil Beaver
on April 10, 2016 at 15:18:39 pm

" ...each person’s view of the highest good at each stage of the person’s life.."

Nice deal if you can live with it. Let's see when I was a young man, I thought the highest good was "where can I score my next nickel bag of weed. Later, it was, "hope i don't get shot" (of course, in many parts of the country that is still operative). Later, it became focused on children, then grandchildren.

Perhaps the point of the essay is to highlight the absence of teaching "higher" values and the striving (civic virtue, as you say) required to attain it. Is there nothing constant?

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gabe
on April 10, 2016 at 18:48:09 pm

Constant was a civic people's appreciation of you in each stage of your life because you were not harmful, and the psychologically mature people had walked a similar path of personal autonomy leading to collaborative autonomy and appreciation of children and grandchildren and beyond.

Physics is constantly emerging, and the evolution of civic morality attempts to conform.

Congratulations on your personal posterity, and work to collaborate for a better future for them and the rest of the children.

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Phil Beaver
on April 11, 2016 at 11:51:52 am

"Civic virtue" is not "as I say," but is an interesting variation by you on "civic morality."

Using Merriam-Webster online I get for pertinent definitions of "virtue"

Full Definition of virtue

1. a : conformity to a standard of right : morality b : a particular moral excellence

3 a beneficial quality or power of a thing

4 strength or courage : valor

5 a commendable quality or trait : merit

6 a capacity to act : potency

Full Definition of morality

1 a : a moral discourse, statement, or lesson b : a literary or other imaginative work teaching a moral lesson

2 a : a doctrine or system of moral conduct b plural : particular moral principles or rules of conduct

3 : conformity to ideals of right human conduct

4 : moral conduct : virtue

If we consider the most recent phrase representing our effort (private liberty with civic morality--PLwCM), both "civic virtue" and "civic morality" shine light. But the formula is simple.

"Private liberty" involves no extraneous "ideals of right human conduct," except conformity to "civic morality." The only requirement for "civic morality" is behavior that does not cause real harm. Plato wrote about neither brooking nor causing harm.

"Virtue" tacitly invokes evaluation, and the no-harm provision is an evaluative consideration, so "virtue" seems applicable.

This morning, I resumed work on an essay for my blog on "heresy," which was used to evaluate one of my thoughts some two decades ago. I thought to begin the essay with a quote from Socrates, and decided to mimic rather than quote. Here's the first revision of my entry:

Mimicking Socrates’s statement in "The Apology," by Plato (see the original English translation to discern the quoted phrases):

Neighbors, this reputation of mine has come of a certain sort of understanding which I earned by study and humble thought. If you ask me what kind of understanding, I reply, such understanding as is attainable by humans, for to that extent I am inclined to believe that I understand some of the objective truth; whereas some people have a superhuman wisdom, which I cannot describe, because I have it not myself; and he who says that I have, speaks falsely, and is taking away my character. And here, neighbors, I must beg you not to interrupt my statement, even if I seem to say something extravagant. For the word which I will speak is not mine. I will refer you to a witness who is worthy of credit, and will tell you about my wisdom - whether I have any, and of what sort - and that witness shall be physics—energy, mass and space-time or its equivalent according to physics.

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Phil Beaver
on April 18, 2016 at 23:49:43 pm

I would think that if we dealt more directly and openly with the greatest of humankind's problems, those other beautiful qualities and attainments would evolve naturally. The problem is human xenophobia. Fear, plain and simple. I don't denigrate fear for it served us well in the past when understanding was rare, but we are emerging from that cocoon and are emotionally and spiritually more able to deal with fear, paranoia, the need to set people apart from each other.

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Edward Tomchin
on April 19, 2016 at 08:12:26 am

Mr. Tomchin, I’m glad you stated, “we are emerging from that cocoon and are emotionally and spiritually more able to deal with fear.”

At age 29, this red-neck from Knoxville, TN was an expatriate chemical engineer in Greece and realized that if I would learn to speak Greek, I’d win their hearts. I learned, and they won my heart.

A reformer can win hearts by finding a “sugar” to offer rather than a “vinegar.” Humankind is emerging from the cocoon of opinion-based law with coerced theism to widespread psychological capability to discover and understand how to benefit from physics. Physics is energy, mass and space-time from which everything emerges, including fear. Fear of traffic and lodging jams surrounding evacuations from a level five hurricane (like Katrina) is a good thing. Fear of a civic person with no-real-harm religious beliefs you do not hold is a bad thing.

The sugar that can attract people to physics-based ethics for determining civic morality is safety and security in its broadest applications, as suggested by John Locke in his 1690 treatise--without the civic imposition of religious opinion, yet appreciating religion as essential to some people’s personal, private practice.

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Phil Beaver

Law & Liberty welcomes civil and lively discussion of its articles. Abusive comments will not be tolerated. We reserve the right to delete comments - or ban users - without notification or explanation.