Sunday, October 12, 2003

Foundations -- Part Four of Four

I had a sudden thought that, with this particular examination, the issue was not whether I was going to get an "A." The issue was HOW I was going to get it.

I began with the simplest question--was Watson's verdict factually "right?" Did the captain deserve an acquittal on the grounds of self-defense or defense of others? Undoubtedly yes, but this merely scratched the surface of the problem.

Was Holmes legally right in appointing himself judge and Watson the jury, thereby bypassing the legal system? Definitely not, I concluded.

But would the legal system have reached the correct result? And at what cost to the captain and the lady? Did Holmes do right by reaching the right result through the wrong practice?

The resolution to each question simply revealed the next. My determination of whether Holmes did "right" changed with each successive inquiry.

Can it ever be right to usurp the legal system? Is the cost to the fabric of society greater than whatever harm might be avoided by the subterfuge? Does it matter if no one else in the society is aware of the injustice worked to the system?

I honestly cannot recall what my ultimate conclusion was, although I suspect my own bias in favor of Holmes probably played a part. But I think, as with the subject matter of the class itself, it was the procedure of getting there that mattered. Discovering for myself that "right" can be determined factually, legally and morally, and that each standard may lead to a different result. Experimenting with the interplay between doing justice for individuals and doing justice for society. And perhaps most important, realizing that it does not require Oliver Wendell Holmes to raise an inquiry worthy of a Legal Studies final examination. Sherlock will do just fine.

1 comment:

andreakingme said...

I see why this piece is one of your favorites. Meaty, yeah, but it was easy for me to see that this was you having a discussion with yourself - when the act of talking out loud helps you make up your mind or solve a mystery. I think only a strong writer could have pulled this off. And it was neat that you took me along. Got to see the gears click.

LOVE the closing. Perfect on so many levels. No wonder you couldn't sleep until you got it all out onto paper.