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LAW Can philosophical insights or empirical knowledge help us make hard choices?

A Broader View: General

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LAW 681B

Can philosophical insights or empirical knowledge help us make hard choices?

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[ Academia ] [ Litigation ] [ Regulatory & Policy ] [ Transactional ] A Broader View: General

Why it is relevant for ...

[ Academia ] [ Litigation ] [ Regulatory & Policy ] [ Transactional ] as a Key Elective : One of the best features of Stanford's academic calendar is the flexibility it provides to take a great many electives. This enables you to emphasize breadth or depth in a particular area, but it also means you can include some courses just because they seem fun or interesting. This course considers some of the tools that may help you make hard choices in your life and career.

General course Description:

We will explore both two overarching themes and five specific problems that I hope are intrinsically interesting. The first general question is whether philosophical inquiries on big issues - e.g. what it means to be well-off; what it means to respect a client's autonomy; what obligations do we have to strangers who are radically worse off than we are; when should we observe rights-based limits on our pursuit of aggregate welfare; what does it mean to coerce another party - help us make choices when it is not obvious what we should do. The second, related question is whether empirical knowledge - e.g. psychological, economic - might help us, in addition, instead, or no more than philosophical insight. The specific questions we will focus on have little in common, other than that they are not easily answered. Some refer to decisions that seem wholly self-regarding, others that seem to refer to obligations to others. Some involve acting in professional role, some out of role. Some seem plainly important, others might seem more trivial. The five questions I tentatively plan on exploring are: (a) how a late adolescent patient (or a doctor advising that patient) ought to choose between an operation that will significantly improve various aspects of her life over the next thirty years but likely leave her completely wheelchair-dependent in middle age and an operation that will lead to impaired functioning for the next few decades but mobile without mechanical aids past the age of 50 (b) how an attorney ought to decide whether to draft what the attorney thinks of as an unfair and exploitative ante-nuptial agreement that favors her client's financial interests if the client asks her to do so (c) how we can evaluate claims that virtually all of us living in economically prosperous countries are obliged to give away virtually all of our income to save the lives of very poor people around the world (d) how we should evaluate the propriety of torture designed to elicit information about planned criminal/terrorist activities that might arguably save those who would be harmed if the plans came to fruition and, finally, (e) how an attorney in a big law firm ought to determine when and whether it is appropriate to ask an administrative assistant to do work that is not directly related to the production of legal services (e.g. pick up laundry from the cleaners) and whether (and if so, why) the answer to that question is sensitive to the gender of the attorney and the attorney's administrative assistant.

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