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Course Descriptions

As of 12/11/2018 5:53:44 AM

Persuasion and the Law

This course considers the role played by trial advocates within modern legal systems. The central problem that we will examine is the potential conflict between the rhetorical role of the trial advocate in seeking victory within the courts, and the goals of the judicial system in securing fairness. During the first half of the semester, we will focus mainly on modern trial advocates: how persuasion occurs, what ethical problems are associated with it, and so on; we will look not only at actual examples of forensic rhetoric (including summations by Clarence Darrow and Gerry Spence), but also at some theoretical discussions of the problems associated with trial advocacy. In the second half of the semester, we will switch attention back to the rhetorical tradition in Classical Greece (fifth to fourth centuries B.C. ): the Sophists, Plato, and especially Aristotle. Here we will examine, in a purer form, the rhetorical concept of law that still survives in modern law, and we will try to assess its current and future significance. This course is not a practicum; it is not aiming to teach students how to be better speakers. Rather, its aim is to inculcate an attitude of self-consciousness about speech techniques and the process of persuasion. The course has no final examination, but all students will be required to write three papers during the term.