Law in Contemporary Society
I'm actually really glad no one used the words "duty" or "responsibility" in their introductory statements. I don't believe in the concept of altruism. No one does anything from which they don't benefit and I'm glad that no one decided to declare him or herself a martyr for society. If being self-sacrificing makes you feel good, then you are benefiting from your "altruistic" act. One should commit his or her life to something they love, something that brings joy. Doing something out of guilt (which is how I see "duty") will not bring you joy or self-satisfaction in life and ultimately, you can't be truly committed or good at something you do with a groan. -- KateVershov - 24 Jan 2008

The desire to fulfill a duty is not the desire to be a self sacrificing martyr. To say the converse implies that a duty has been imposed upon you (by yourself or others) in the absence of or separate from a debt or expected benefit; that you have received nothing in exchange for the requested services defining the duty. I'm uncomfortable with throwing around the word never, but generally, this is not the case. People fulfill duties, as you say, because they have or will receive a benefit compared to the effect of not fulfilling the duty.

Some examples of what I mean: People better the community because the community provided them opportunities and they want to give back (or want to enjoy living in an improved community). People feel a duty to support their elderly mother because they received the benefit of her influence in their lives.

You sort of say this by stating that people always benefit from their actions, even if the benefit is just that they feel good, but then you seem to say that fulfilling duties is mutually exclusive from doing something you love and brings joy, and that being duty oriented implies you are motivated by guilt? Do you mean that obligations you fulfill in exchange for some benefit are mislabeled and not actually duties - that a true duty is a service provided with absolutely no benefit received? If so, can you provide an example of a duty?

So far though, I don't understand the jump to guilt, unhappiness, and groaning. However, it seems like we may just have different definitions of the term duty. I don't mean to pointlessly argue semantics .

-- MakalikaNaholowaa - 24 Jan 2008

I believe in altruism, but I'm with Kate in that I won't fault someone who won't declare it as their "duty" or "responsibility". Someone who says "I want to do good" is the functional equivalent of one who says "I feel a duty/responsibility to do good." If we'll be happier, and more driven, and more committed to do good, when we "want" to rather than when society imposes it as a "duty," then by all means say it like that. By shifting the rhetoric from society to the individual, America educates us to be self-sustaining in our do-goodery.

None of us said "risk" in our Intros, but we all took a risk when we exposed our life's goals to our classmates.

-- AndrewGradman - 24 Jan 2008

Makalika- you are quite right. I am interpreting duty to mean something foisted upon us by society - such as "a duty to serve your country" by registering with the Army (I don't mean enlisting of one's own volition - I mean those papers all men had to sign before colleges would admit them). I am interpreting duty to mean an obligation imposed on you externally. I do not define helping your elderly mother as "a duty." You are (hopefully) not doing it because society says that you should. You are doing it because you love her and realize that you should take care of her in the same way that she once took care of you. This is not a duty. You do it because doing it preserves your own integrity as an individual and because you feel that it is the right thing to do. That action reflects your own value judgment as an individual rather than someone else's.

Note that a lot of us DID, in fact, write something akin to the idea that we believed in helping others. We didn't characterize it as a duty, though. We see it as the right thing to do. We see doing it as a reflection of the type of people we hope to be. It is a difference between following someone else's norms blindly and forging ahead on your own terms.

I will admit that largely this is an argument of semantics and there are many ways to define the words "duty" and "responsibility" and I am approaching it from just one perspective. But, I happen to be a pain in the ass about semantics and don't believe that any of us should be couching our life goals and ambitions within the terms of "duty" or "responsibility." We were right in not using those words. I likewise believe that if one of us had in fact used these word, Eben would have found another similarly irrelevant, but nice sounding term with which to chastise us . Sorry Eben. I realize you probably have a different, more positive paradigm through which to view these terms, but if so, I think you're quibbling with diction because the ideas that you see behind those words are in fact reflected in people's statements.

Andrew- why do you believe in altruism? Also, could you tell Santa I want a new computer this year? (I kid, I kid). And again - do you really feel a "responsibility" to do good? I don't. I am making a conscious value judgment about what is and isn't important to me in the world and I'm targeting those problems, which in my opinion are most pressing or of most interest to me. There is nothing objective about it. I feel no debt to society and I'm not entirely sure that anything about "society" per se confers any sort of responsibility on anyone to the extent that they feel that they must take on the profession of law (and 200k in debt)- especially not those people who grew up in underprivileged areas and received very few benefits to begin with.

To me, the words "duty" and "responsibility" are not related to the choices that individuals make for themselves. These are words related to the choices our government and other institutions want to guilt us into making. We make the choices that we do because we believe in them. We think they are right. They help us to go to sleep at night. At the heart of it, we do the things that make us feel best even if it means doing something to our detriment (like taking a public interest job) because the net effect on us is positive. We are capable of seeing a benefit in more than just material terms. See Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

-- KateVershov - 24 Jan 2008

Kate -- I believe in altruism because I see people doing things that help other people.

Don't think I'm talking like a functionalist because it was in last week's assigned reading. I have believed this stuff since my junior year of college, when it was in the assigned reading.

-- AndrewGradman - 24 Jan 2008

I don't think I'm as cynical as Kate towards someone who thinks they have a duty or responsibility to do good things. A career oriented towards helping others might bring people a degree of satisfaction with their livelihood or even a sense of self-importance that renders doubtful any assertion that their actions are purely altruistic, but that doesn’t mean that what they’re doing is geared more towards reaping some kind of benefit (material or spiritual) rather than carrying out a responsibility.

I can think of a social worker who works with drug addicts (many there involuntarily) who finds her job extremely frustrating most of the time and would likely agree that she’d be personally happier and more satisfied with life in a cushier private sector job with better pay and a more comfortable life for her family. Would it be wrong for her to continue on if her primary reason for doing so is a sense of duty to her community? I don’t see this as necessarily arising out of guilt. Couldn’t it arise out of a strong sense of community? I see your point that the net effect ultimately can be positive on the individual if you take into account more than just material benefits – but when individuals make a decision every morning to go to their ‘do-gooder’ job rather than switch to a more lucrative career, aren’t they making a ‘blind guess’ of sorts as to whether their actions ultimately are more beneficial for them personally than the alternatives (especially considering all of the dollar signs pointing in the other direction)?

My point is that, when people are confronted with that uncertainty about benefits and choose to side with a sense of responsibility, perhaps they ought to be praised for sticking to it even when their intuitions about personal benefit and job satisfaction may be pointing in multiple directions.

-- VishalA? - 24 Jan 2008

I see no reason why duty or responsibility cannot align with self-interest or self-satisfaction. Duty simply means obligation. It does not mean non- satisfying acts. Indeed, fulfilling one's obligation may make one happier than anything else. This does not mean that the individual is not obligated to do the given act. Joy is a result of action; duty precedes action. The concepts are thus logically independent, and the supposed contradiction is contrived.

-- AndrewHerink - 24 Jan 2008

I disagree with the idea that self-interest impels all action.

Cardozo said "Danger invites rescue." Consider the story of Wesley Autrey, the "Subway Hero" (link below). Of course Autrey benefited from his actions in the end, but had he performed a pure self-interest cost-benefit analysis, doing nothing for this stranger and feeling guilty about it would have weighed more heavily than risking death and being lauded for it.

Another example that comes to mind is Arland Williams, the "sixth survivor" of Air Florida Flight 90 (link below). It seems to me that if Williams had acted in his self-interest, he would have been better off grabbing the lifeline for himself and feeling bad about failing to save some strangers than passing the lifeline to others and drowning.

There are several things that drive people to act against their self-interest, including fear and inertia (as Eben talked about the first day), and yes, altruism.

-- TedKreit - 25 Jan 2008

I don't think the objectivist argument against altruism is fallacious, I simply don't see how it adds anything to the conversation...

It is easy to argue that the type of act that Ted mentioned above is performed out of self interest, however it is a meaningless argument. The "self interest" you are speaking of in order to make this claim is very broadly defined; the meaning must resolve to something like "in accordance with one's own personal desires." Of course this is true, but the claim thus is something like "People do things because they want to." Not a very profound statement.

Note that the definition of "self interest" you are left with does not correspond to the generally understood definition of the term. The fallacy comes when you then try to take the (true) statement "One only acts out of self interest" and put it in another context.

When you take the self interest statement and claim that therefore everyone is selfish, or that acting in a "self interested" manner is justified or beneficial, you are now using a different, more narrow definition of self interest. This "self interest" is associated with greed and selfishness, and is not at all similar to the type of "self interest" used to prove the original statement.

The fallacy is thus similar to me saying:

"Every type of canine is a dog. The law says that one can own a dog as a pet. Therefore I can own a wolf as a pet"

Each statement is true... but the "dog" I am talking about in the first sentence is broadly defined to encompass the taxonomic family, whereas the "dog" in the second sentence is narrowly defined to be the domestic dog, Canis familiaris.

I suppose my point simply is: Of course all action is, in a very broad sense, directed at the self. We generally know what people mean when they say duty, however, and because of this, the word does have a real meaning.

Kate's point that the term "duty" can be used to excuse the coercive power of government or society is well taken, but I don't think we need to get rid of the word to make the point. Like every word, "duty" can be understood in different ways - just be clear how you mean it when you use it, and we will all be happy and intelligible.

-- TheodoreSmith - 26 Jan 2008

Theodore, I wrote a really long post trying to explain exactly what you have so well explained for me. Thank you. My point, however, was that the way we commonly use the word "duty" - to mean something we feel a strong moral desire to do - was already reflected in many of our statements. So my point was that actually using the word "duty" would have added nothing to our statements and its omission should leave no ground for protest unless of course we are in fact supposed to think of the word "duty" as referring to some sort of debt or obligation to the government or society at large.

-- KateVershov - 26 Jan 2008

I have a few concerns about class discussion and I am not sure this is the best place to address this. (Perhaps the wiki bill of rights topic would be more appropriate, but here goes). When Kate and Eben were discussing Kate’s notion that no act is altruistic (forgive me vulgarizing your argument), I was too distracted by the tone of the discussion to think about altruism. Eben, I am not really sure what to make of your chuckles in response to Kate’s arguments. (I am not humorless I swear!) I just don’t see how chuckling fosters discussion, and her comments were not especially funny. I was most bothered by the “That’s cute.” If she hadn't been a women of a certain age, I do not think her comments would have been nearly as cute.

-- ThaliaJulme - 29 Jan 2008

I'm sorry you were distracted, Thalia. I think the first thing to do in interpreting laughter is to recognize that it comes unbidden. I don't remember which of several ironies in the situation moved mine. A moment of agility in Kate's ultimately impossible defense of the objectivist position inspired the expression of admiration. I don't know whether you imply that I wouldn't have admired the rhetorical move if a young woman hadn't made it, or that I wouldn't have called it "cute" if it had been done by a young man. Either way, I can't possibly be sure, but I think the odds are very heavily in favor. On the detail of a word, several sorts of statement of admiration might have appeared there, like the encouragement one gives someone with whom one rallies in a racket game by calling out "good shot." As I was pretty sure Kate was playing objectivist, rather than actually being an objectivist--which is not a happy fate--I thought her remarks should be judged as an advocate's performance, in which context its quality of specious agility was very striking. It was precisely cute argument--neat, well-packaged, too clever by half, prettily executed, and substantively hopeless.

One way of avoiding distraction in following dialogue in a forum like ours may be to recollect that when we are actively listening to people we are always listening on several different levels. At one level we are trying to hear their literal words and remember what they are saying. We are also taking in emotional tone, which is often indistinct or uncertain. We are also affected by the emotions of those around us, even if they do not say anything--that's why a live theater performance is always different from watching prerecorded video. And then there are the ideas themselves, which are apart from both the words and the feelings, but which we gather, respond to and remember in relation to both the linguistic and emotional layers. Creative lawyering means we want to keep channels open to all the elements at the same time. We're trying to have a consilient understanding of social life, based on bringing multiple perspectives to bear on any one thing we're trying to understand. It also helps to remember, as AndrewGradman remarks elsewhere, that our classroom is a theater for the dramatization of ideas, in which Form and Content are not entirely separated.

-- EbenMoglen - 28 Jan 2008

Thalia, It looks like Eben responded to your inquiry here by posting in the "FreeSpeech" topic, and now there appears to be no way to respond to Eben's response to you at the bottom of that thread. So, I'd like to respond here to Eben's comment there. Most of Eben's comment references Makalika's earlier observation in that thread. I for one don't mind the mix of emotional commentary with the commentary that addresses class readings, theories, and more practical/world-related matters like overseas movement of "big firm" operations and reduced work hours. Eben, since you say that the Twiki is for "active listening," I think that "listening" to various commentaries, regardless of their nature or the reasons behind them, is appropriate here. Since the threads are categorized by title, people can somewhat selectively read and respond to whatever they want (but I realize all the thread titles aren't exactly representative). In my mind, this is somewhat similar to reading a newspaper -- skip the sections you aren't interested in. What's the harm?

-- BarbPitman - 29 Jan 2008

woops, looks like Eben and I were writing and posting at pretty much the same time.

-- BarbPitman - 29 Jan 2008

It would be a mistake to think of the words “duty” and “responsibility” solely in terms of groan-worthy moral obligations. The duties and responsibilities that we voluntarily assume shape our lives and define who we are. Even acts of individual self-indulgence like buying a big house or a fancy car generate duties like paying taxes or responsibilities like regular maintenance. These duties and responsibilities are, of course, relatively trivial by comparison to the duties associated with being a parent or representing a client whose life is on the line.

Since we will inevitably take on some duties and responsibilities, the question is which ones are you willing to assume? What do you want to be defined by?

-- StephenClarke - 29 Jan 2008

Eben, I think I erred in saying I was distracted by the “that’s cute.” It took away from my real point: I do not think you would have called Kate’s statement “cute” had she not been a women, a young women. Even if you would have called a young man cute in class, it would not mean the same thing. Calling a women cute in a quasi-professional or professional setting is entirely different than calling a young man cute. Why? I am not sure. Or maybe I do not think a wiki is a great place to develop grand theory. I understand that it may have been a reflex or a “statement of admiration,” but it was still inappropriate. The classroom is indeed a performance space. I agree with you when you say it is theater like, and it is for this very reason I am troubled by such comments. The classroom is one of the many spaces in which women learn to behave like “women.” Like it or not, classrooms help in the socializing process. So, what do women learn when they are called cute in the classroom. What do women learn when cuteness is positive evaluation in classroom? I would argue nothing great. We are in law school now, so the process is pretty much complete. We have all learned how to behave. I still think it is important to point out instances of somewhat sexist behavior. (notice that I say “somewhat sexist” rather than the more confrontational ”sexist.” I have been well trained) My last post was brief because I am not a big fan of long wiki posts. I was hoping to continue the conversation. In talking about career alternatives, maybe we could talk about the need for more women professors. We could talk about how career paths are shaped by gender. Are there more women in public interest law? Why?

-- ThaliaJulme - 29 Jan 2008

I lost all my paragraph breaks. I really don't know how to use this thing

-- ThaliaJulme - 29 Jan 2008



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r23 - 22 Jan 2009 - 01:02:35 - IanSullivan
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