Law in Contemporary Society

The Myth Behind “My job is not who I am. It is just what I do.”

-- By MiRi - 22 Feb 2010

Essence – Who I am.

Heidegger said that the essence of something does not lie solely in its instrumentality. In fact, to define something in such a manner would be to see only a fragment of what it truly is and, more importantly, to obscure what it potentially can become. Thus, we must participate in “bringing forth”, a specific process of engagement that encourages meaningful interactions with the world around us. Through such interactions, we can develop a certain mode of being with manifold potentials to recreate ourselves.

Our worldview necessarily shapes how we engage in this process, and Heidegger asserted that our dominant worldview looks at the world as a standing reserve. In such a worldview, a river is seen as a source of electricity; trees are seen as timber; and a meadow is seen as putting green. In each instance, the object is seen as an exploitable resource and nothing more.

We often fail to notice that when we engage in this process, we also limit our manifold potentials. We are no longer engaged meaningfully in our world as aids, helping in the process of an entity’s unfolding or bringing forth. We are instead exploiters with limited potential in relation to our surrounding environment. To put this in more concrete terms, let us compare the way an ordinary person may view and think about a vase with the way a silversmith would. The ordinary man may see, unless he is a particularly poetic soul or an avid collector of vases, that the vase has a certain shape, that it holds a certain amount of water, and that it can be used to hold flowers. The silversmith, on the other hand, sees beyond the vase's function, for he grasps a form or essence and thinks about how to bring it into creation. He therefore engages in a bringing forth. Heidegger suggested that the silversmith’s worldview is that of an artist’s, which should be the preferred worldview. Thus, instead of seeing the Rhine River as a source of electricity, as an engineer might for example, we should see it through an artist’s eyes, as when a writer extols it in a poem as a symbol of German national pride.

Putting it in context – It is just what I do.

Our worldview and how it orders the world that we live in will determine the way we view our role in the world and thus how we will approach and use the law as future lawyers. In the context of the law, the current dominant worldview would have dangerous consequences. After all, turning other human beings into standing reserves is what allows us to strip them of their humanity and turn them into one-dimensional beings. The victims of a crime would be a statistic or the alleged criminals will be seen as nothing more than guilty murderers. However, when we look past the labels and their limitations on the individual, we can form a more profound appreciation that would command a more compassionate and nuanced treatment of our fellow human beings.

As future lawyers, the law can provide us with a powerful means of achieving a more authentic existence in the world when we choose to use it to aid in the bringing forth of our fellow man. We can detach ourselves from the world and its social injustices by choosing the client that we see as nothing more than standing reserves – resources with deep pockets that we can dip into with high billable hours, while ignoring the harm and damages such a client may cause others. Or, we can instead choose to see beyond the exploitative properties. We can choose to represent the client that we see as a multi-faceted individual and engage in a process that recreates, redeems, restore, and rejuvenates for the purpose of achieving justice.

This sounds more like a spa treatment than actual law practice.

Thus, we can choose to look at our future careers as lawyers as not something that we merely do, but something that will define our essence and relation to the world as genuine aids of bringing forth. We can aid in the actualization of the manifold potentials of greatness around us.

I'm not sure I see the need for Heidegger here: the idea might as easily be expressed out of Kant or out of Aristotle. Indeed, one can do without the name-dropping altogether, and say simply that it's fundamental to our legal ethics that the client must be treated as a source of ends, not a means.

This has the distinct advantage of not relying on a man in an SS uniform for advice about how to live. It also allows us to express the difference between the client and others in the lawyer's worldview, which is not directly captured by the general expressions of those not contemplating the lawyer's particular situation.


Webs Webs

r6 - 13 Jan 2012 - 23:14:21 - IanSullivan
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