- Course Description
- Schedule of Readings
- Course Requirements
- Course Prerequisites
- Course Format
- Links and Handouts
America is sometimes described as a land without philosophy, as when Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, "I think that in no country in the civilized world is less attention paid to philosophy than in the United States. The Americans have no philosophical school of their own, and they care but little for all the schools into which Europe is divided, the very names of which are scarcely known to them." We have produced no Plato, Descartes, or Kant. America is the birthplace, however, of pragmatism. Indeed, pragmatism has often been thought to capture distinctively American attitudes: a preference for practical success over principled stances; a materialist approach to life; an instinct for the bottom line. Thus, it comes as no surprise to read William James declare that in order to choose between competing philosophies, we must spell them out in terms of their "cash-value." Pragmatism is something of an anti-philosophy, at least if Plato, Descartes, and Kant are our models of philosophers.
Consonant with these "pragmatist" stances, American legal realists declare that legal "rules are important so far as they help you to predict what judges will do. That is all their importance except as pretty playthings" (Karl Llewellyn) and "a legal duty so called is nothing but a prediction that if a man does or omits certain things he will be made to suffer in this or that way by judgment of the court; —and so of a legal right" (Justice Holmes). In the context of political philosophy, John Dewey argues that an uncompromising commitment to the Bill of Rights represents an "idolatry of the Constitution," rather than a pragmatic concern for balancing powers and prerogatives so as to produce the best overall result.
In this course we will examine American Legal Realism and Dewey's vision of participatory democracy in depth. We will locate and develop the philosophical underpinnings of these expressions of pragmatism, and we will challenge them both with respect to their philosophical foundations and their practical effects.
Two formal papers, one on legal realism (7-10 pages, due March 1st) and one on participatory democracy (7-10 pages, due May 9th), as well as a series of shorter writing assignments (5 to 7 of them).
Your grade for this course will be determined by your grades on the papers: 40% for each of the two formal papers, 20% for the shorter assignments combined.
Late papers: unexcused late papers will be graded down one grade step (e.g., B+ to B) per two business days late. Please discuss legitimate excuses with me as early as possible, and consult my blurb on good excuses. Having to take midterms on the same day or having several assignments from multiple classes due at the same time are not legitimate. The two formal paper assignments will be posted at least two weeks in advance of the due date. Plan in advance! For the shorter papers, let me know as soon as possible, when a situation arises.
In order to take this course, you must have completed one prior philosophy course (including Phil. 099) or the Liberal Arts Seminar in the College.
Class time is a mix of lecture and discussion.
- Thayer, H.S. (ed.). Pragmatism: The Classic Writings. (Hackett)
- Dewey, John. Political Writings, ed. Morris and Shapiro. (Hackett)
- Fisher, William W., III, et al., eds. American Legal Realism. (Oxford)
- Strunk, William, Jr. and E.B. White, The Elements of Style. (Longman)
further readings on reserve in Lauinger Library
- A Brief Set of Definitions of Legal Terms Used in the Readings
- Some Supplementary Quotes on Due Process
- Legal Realism Timeline
- Abbreviations on Returned Papers
- Guidelines for Submitting Papers
- How to Write a Philosophy Paper
- My General Guidelines on Grading
- Download the paper syllabus for this course
- Posner-Heymann debate on FISA