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Spring 2021 Seminar

Philosophical Analysis of Legal Argument: The Logocratic Method in an Uncertain Time

Prerequisites: None

Exam Type: No Exam

Ours is a time fraught with uncertainty about the stability and legitimacy of political and legal institutions and the security of our individual health and that of the planet. To a surprising extent, the human capacity to make, receive, and be convinced by arguments is central to the way we make sense of information about both our individual lives and the world in general. Arguments are also central to the operations of vital domains of life, including politics (think about the political effects of social media), law (think about the contentious issues that come before the Supreme Court as well as who should sit on the Court), and everyday life (think about urgent decisions to be made about public health and personal precaution during a pandemic). This course presents a detailed philosophical examination of arguments and their operation and effects in legal, political, and everyday life. The course framework is the Logocratic Method, a systematic method for understanding the nature of arguments and their principal uses, which can enhance one's ability both to make and to critique arguments. Although the Logocratic Method applies to arguments in any domain, our principal focus will be on legal and political arguments. From a Logocratic point of view, these tools of analysis are to lawyering and political persuasion as materials engineering is to architecture. One must know the strengths and the weaknesses of the materials from which an edifice is built, and, no less importantly, the different ways in which these materials can be strong or weak, lest it collapse under its own weight — whether the edifice is a dome atop a cathedral, an argument for plaintiff, prosecutor, or defendant, or an argument for the electability of a candidate or in favor of or in opposition to a legislative policy. Readings are from philosophers, legal and political theorists, as well as from cases, statutes, and political speeches.

Although the course introduces and uses some basic techniques from formal logic (familiar to all LSAT-takers!), this course presupposes no background in logic or philosophy. Work for the course consists of class participation and a paper that applies the methods learned in the course to a case or political speech (to be agreed in consultation with the professor). Cross-registrants are welcome. Anyone seeking information about this course should feel free to contact Professor Scott Brewer at