Sunday, October 12, 2003

Foundations -- Part Two of Four

It turned out to be the only class I took, in college or law school, that was taught in the Socratic method. I became "the" student in the class--the one who is always called on when someone else does not have the response the professor is looking for. I knew I could get questioned in that class at any time. As a result (and, perhaps, a cause), I was more prepared for those class sessions than any other class, before or since. Although I did not quite realize it at the time, I learned a hell of a lot along the way. Really LEARNED it. In my desire to always be ready with the answer for the professor, I internalized the things he was teaching. I wasn't merely mastering the material so I could spout it back on an exam and forget it the next week, I was taking it in, engaging in dialogue with myself over the material, and coming to terms with the concepts at issue.

And what concepts they were. The "foundations of justice," I learned, are nothing less than the basic rules upon which societies are built: That before people can come together at all, they must agree to speak the truth; that doing good--justice-- is an end within itself. In my practice as an attorney, I've always respected the "due process" protections our constitution provides. But in "Foundations of Justice," I considered, perhaps for the only time, the necessity of respecting these protections, whatever the consequences, in order for the populace to continue to consent to be governed. The process must always be seen to be, and actually BE, just.

I remember arriving for the final exam in "Foundations of Justice." A three-hour written examination. The exams are set on the table, face down, in front of us. We are not to turn them over, but there is no rule against attempting to make out the type, backwards, from the back of the page. (You can tell I was already thinking like a lawyer.) There is a lengthy single-spaced fact scenario set forth, and the question beneath: a single line, set apart from the rest. I concentrate my efforts on making out the question.

"Did Holmes do right?"

For a moment, I think it is a Sherlock Holmes question. With regret, I chide myself that I am now entering the path to becoming an attorney, and future references to "Holmes" will mean Justice Oliver Wendell and not Sherlock.

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