Saturday, November 18, 2017

Resurrecting Truth at Duquesne University School of Law

11/18/2017--I was too busy to blog about the extraordinary Symposium at Duquesne these last two days: Shall These Bones Live?: Resurrecting Truth in American Law and Public Discourse. The Symposium took shape with the Time Magazine Cover question back in April, Is Truth Dead. There was a tremendous cast of speakers. The event can be watched by accessing the Symposium webpage here.

The keynote on Thursday was Louise Antony, well-known philosopher at UMass. On Friday, there were two panels and a plenary session. The first panel consisted of Justin Dyer, University of Missouri, Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy,Lawrence Solan, Brooklyn Law School, me and, as moderator, Jennifer Bates, Duquesne University Department of Philosophy. The second panel consisted of Heidi Li Feldman, Georgetown University Law Center and co-convener of the Symposium, Alina Ng, Mississippi College School of Law, Bradley Wendel, Cornell Law School, and, as moderator, Elizabeth Cochran, Duquesne University Department of Theology. Will Huhn, visiting professor of law at Duquesne, moderated the plenary session in which he put a serious question to each speaker.

These are extraordinary people and the program was a serious exploration, mostly non-partisan, of some of the deep sources of democratic disease in America and what can be done about it.

I did not know any of the participants before, but the combination of discipline, style and approach was very helpful in elucidating where we are and where we might go. Several people told me they had never seen an academic gathering so seriously focused,not without humor,on a single problem.

I felt, and I'm sure some of my students did as well, that this is what a law school should be doing today. But I don't know of another one that is. I am grateful for the support, planning and participation by the Dean of Faculty Scholarship at Duquesne, Jane Moriarty and for the institutional commitment by Dean Maureen Lally-Green, who cut short a trip just to be present at the Symposium. Lots of people worked very hard to pull this off. Duquesne is a special place.

I was remiss in not mentioning and thanking Robert Taylor, retired professor of law, during the program, but it would not have made much sense to outsiders. People who know Duquesen could see his fingerprints all over this event. He held ones like it and he stretched the Law School during his time there beyond what law schools are usually capable of. And then there is his ongoing impact on me... .


  1. I am leaving a comment about the symposium here because I wish I would have said something about it in class last night. The symposium left me reflecting on many things.

    Who gets to decide what truth is? The masses? But isn’t there an individualistic component to the truth? If we are all charged with some sort of duty to be as truthful as possible all of the time is it possible that my truth is less valid than the truth of somebody with more intellect? How often is my truth not as right as somebody else’s? How will I ever know? Does life really have some sort of purpose or do we simply exist? If there is no god, no heaven, and if the world is deterministic, then what does it matter what people think or say?

    As a scientist, I do wish that the symposium had an evolutionary biologist, or the like. There were plenty of metaphors and similes being drawn from the field of science, and perhaps that is what got me thinking about all of this. . . . It made me ponder why it matters whether truth is dead. Perhaps because we want everyone to be safe, warm, and fed. But, if there is no day of reckoning then why do we care about other people? And will the truth help us to help everyone?

    On one hand, I believe that because humans, like all living things, are driven by biological mechanisms, it is natural for us to be selfish and compete with one another. We do this because we are driven to be biologically fit. So why would we worry about whether the guy next to us is hurt or starving?

    On the other hand, we may not be like all other species (or maybe we don’t know enough to realize that we are not that different than some); we feel compassion and, while I do not believe altruistic behavior exists, we do help one another, albeit (and if for no other reason) with a drive to somehow advance our own individual fitness. Perhaps this is why we care whether the guy next to us is hurt or starving. While most would shudder at the mere thought of another’s child being hurt or hungry, even though the child is not their own and, thus, a genetic connection is lacking, is that because we are all part of one large pack? Does the fact alone that we all belong to this pack impart some sort of goodness in all of us, or is it because religious morals have been instilled into our every thought? Can we separate the two? Or is this a classic example of nature vs nurture?

    There are moments when it feels like our society is cleaving in every direction; not just republicans and democrats, but the poor and rich, women and men, white people and people of color, but why? Has it always been this way? Are things really changing as much as I feel they are, or does constant access to the media make everything merely feel different? Or is it because I wasn’t paying attention to these types of issues when I was younger? It makes me ponder the correlation between truth and hatred.

    But, there are also times in which our society takes momentous steps in a humanitarian direction. And I do have faith in our pack. Faith that we will not allow ourselves to cleave and suffer. I think that the symposium was a step along this path and am glad that Duquesne hosted this event and I agree with you that this is precisely the type of conversation that should be occurring at law schools.

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