If you had told me as a 1L that I’d be writing a philosophy paper my 3L year, I would have laughed in your face.  I studied labor relations in undergrad, an application-centric curriculum asking about the real-world conditions facing managers, employees, and unions in the American workplace.  I had no time for Plato’s musings in my classes about employment law, or Rawls’s theories in my classes about group psychology.  But intrigued by the arguments that my peers were having about the future of international law and governance, I found and signed up for NYU’s colloquium on law, economics, and politics.

Co-taught by Professors John Ferejohn and Janos Kis, the colloquium was unlike anything I had ever taken.  Every other week, we would read a working draft of a paper written by a political or legal philosopher, with topics ranging from protecting minorities through rights versus through representation in government, to reconceptualizing why states have rights to certain territory, to rebutting the claim that theories of justice are limited by human nature.  The first week with each paper, we would write a 2-3 page critique, followed by a 2-hour class discussion about the argument, its weaknesses, and its implications.  The second week with each paper, the author would come in and present their paper to us and to any other professors interested in that week’s topic.

Would it be too pretentious to compare the colloquium to the School at Athens? Probably. Definitely. Still, it's a nice thought...

Admittedly, the learning curve was steep.  The recollection of my first response paper is a painful memory of confusion, idea fragments, and BS-ing.  But I soon got the hang of it: political philosophy did not require any special expertise or analytical framework.  It needed only the willingness to pursue a single thought through to its logical conclusion.  I began writing passionate responses about why I disagreed with NYU’s Daryl Levinson and Brown’s David Estlund, or about the disastrous consequences of the ideas proposed by Princeton’s Anna Stilz, and NYU’s Jeremy Waldron.  I spoke in class with growing confidence, knowing that the only standard by which we were judged was how convincing we could be.  And in my proudest moments, I worked up the nerve to ask the authors themselves about their papers, with full knowledge that the other professors in the room might be silently judging my questions.

During winter break, my parents asked how this course fit in to my overall legal education.  For a moment, I considered that it might really be designed for people interested in pursuing academic careers.  But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that the real value of the colloquium was not any substantive knowledge about political philosophy.  Rather, it had strengthened my ability to think about an idea without any empirical knowledge and simply follow its implications.  Where I once struggled to write two pages of response, I was now writing fifteen with ease.

My advice?  Take advantage of NYU’s colloqiuia.  You won’t regret it.

This entry was written by and posted on January 05, 2011.
The entry was filed under these categories: Classes, Scholarship, Tips and Advice

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