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I teach Philosophy of Law to Law students in Brazil, a discipline that lasts no longer than one semester and does not count on the students' previous affinity, and I am always wondering about the best way of investing the short time I have. I'm an enthusiast of the analytical tradition and its way of approaching the problems of the field. May you give me some advices or tips? For example: Which units are better: subjects, problems, schools, authors, theories? Which model is better: cases and problems, or authors and theories? What is more important: learning a little on many subjects (authors, theories etc.) or learning more on one or two subjects (authors, theories etc.)? Is the direct reading of the authors' texts indispensable or is it replaceable by good introductions and commentaries? Should I spend some time with the history of the discipline, or only with the present debates?

I know I asked too many questions, I know a lot of the answers depends on my options and preferences, I know that almost every option is worthy somehow but I'm really interested in your answers, even if personal and contextualized.

September 9, 2007

Response from Thomas Pogge on October 7, 2007

More than on your preferences, the answers also depend on the kind of students you face and on the legal system within which they serve. In light of my limited knowledge of these and other relevant matters, I would suggest you focus on leading your students to think philosophically about the law. For example, what moral authority do those in government have to enforce laws against non-consenters? What must the government be like, and what must the laws it is enforcing be like, for such enforcement to be morally permissible? And under what conditions does the mere fact that something is the law give citizens a moral (as opposed to a merely prudential) reason to act accordingly?

These sort of questions and reflections are crucial, I think, for students to appreciate the conceptual gap between the law and justice -- a gap that is often deliberately obscured, as when the government agency in charge of law enforcement is called the Department of Justice (its recent head in the US, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, authorized torture) and judges are referred to as justices. Being aware of this gap helps future lawyers to be sensitive to the responsibilities they bear, as officers of the law, for its broad conformity to justice.

Such broad conformity is endangered when lawyers and other officials act "under color of law," i.e. abuse their legal authority for personal ends. And such broad conformity is even more seriously endangered when the entire legal system is perverted in the service of a blatantly unjust regime, as arguably happened during Brazil's two decades of military dictatorship. As St. Augustin famously said (in somewhat different words), without justice a well-ordered legal system may be no better than organized robbery and exploitation. Such perversion is, of course, a matter of degree. And so the lawyer's responsibility always involves helping to make the legal system one that really has moral authority to command and really does generate moral obligations to comply. In Brazil, as in most other countries, a great deal remains to be done, and lawyers can play an important role in promoting not merely the rule of law, but the rule of just law.


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