Courtesy and New Law Students Reply

The classical model of liberal education has been eroded, I must conclude, so that students before they arrive in law school have lost any sense of propriety and courtesy in their interactions. Martha Nussbaum in Volume 70 of the Chicago Law Review writes that the traditional view of liberal education included the capacity to “develop each person’s capacity to be fully human, by which he means self-aware, self-governing, and capable of recognizing and respecting the humanity of all our fellow human beings, no matter where they are born, no matter what social class they inhabit, no matter what their gender or ethnic origin.” She concludes this statement with Seneca’s charge “Soon we will breathe our last. Meanwhile, while we live, while we are among human beings, let us cultivate our humanity.”

In laying out the case for the developing of human beings in law school, Nussbaum advocates for several critical components:

  1. Socratic Self-examination — to be critical of one’s self and one’s traditions
  2. Cultivation of a world citizenship — moving outside of the narrow confines of personal, economic, or social interests
  3. The development of narrative imagination

Learning these things is critical. They will not make students successful of themselves. But certainly lacking them will hold them back from achieving a truly good life. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “life is not so short, but that there is always time for courtesy.”

Martha’s article Cultivating Humanity in Legal Education, 70 Chicago L. Rev. 265 can be accessed here.

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