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Posts Tagged ‘The Constitution’

Kenneth Burke’s Constitution: In Brief

In Arts & Letters, Communication, Humanities, Information Design, Literary Theory & Criticism, Philosophy, Rhetoric, Rhetoric & Communication, Semiotics, Western Philosophy on August 8, 2012 at 8:45 am

Allen Mendenhall

Kenneth Burke treats the constitution—or, in some cases, constitutions—as a dialectic, symbolic act that is representative of the tendencies and preferences of communities.  Burke applies the elements of the pentad—act, agency, agent, scene, and purpose—to form what he calls paradigmatic anecdotes for understanding how constitutions apply to and interact with communities.  The pentad, for Burke, is equipment for simplifying complex ideas into understandable categories or anecdotes.  It provides, in that sense, what he calls an “idiom of reduction” for understanding human motives.

Humans are sign-using creatures motivated by different “grammars,” and it is a grammatical move to interpret human action in terms of the pentad.   A constitution is not simply a tangible document—indeed, as Burke points out, there is no written constitution in Britain—but instead represents a symbol of the coordination of individuals that provides them with a calculus for determining not only how to act, but also how to know what motivates action.

Constitutions put forth general types, or principles, that can be considered ideals, and these types, principles, or ideals provide standards or criteria by which individuals in a community aspire to act.  A constitution is therefore more of a symbol of that which coordinates human behavior within a given community than it is a top-down imposition of legislative fiat.  A constitution, in short, is a communicative sign validated and made useful by its ability to induce cooperation among people.


Teaching Bioethics From a Legal Perspective

In Advocacy, Arts & Letters, Bioethics, Communication, Creative Writing, Creativity, Humanities, Jurisprudence, Law, Law-and-Literature, Legal Education & Pedagogy, News and Current Events, Pedagogy, Politics, Rhetoric, Rhetoric & Communication, Teaching, Writing on July 6, 2011 at 8:33 pm

Allen Mendenhall

Last fall, I was assigned to teach a course called “Health & Medicine.”  Because I know little about health or medicine, I was concerned.  The subject of the course was writing, so I decided to craft a syllabus to facilitate classroom discussion and textual argument.  Here is the course description as stated on my syllabus:

Forensic discourse is one of three forms of classical rhetoric as defined by Aristotle.  It focuses on the relationship between language and law.  This semester we will explore forensic discourse in the context of health and medicine and consider the relationship of law to such issues as physician assisted suicide, surrogacy, cloning, informed consent, malpractice, and organ transplants.  Readings on ethics and philosophy will inform the way you think about these issues.

Your grade will not depend on how much you learn about law, but on how you use language to argue about and with law.  Because the facts of any case are rarely clear-cut, you will need to understand both sides of every argument.  Your writing assignments will require you to argue on behalf of both plaintiffs and defendants (or prosecutors and defendants) and to rebut the arguments of opposing counsel.  You will develop different tactics for persuading your audience (judges, attorneys, etc.), and you will become skilled in the art of influence.

During the semester, your class will interview one attorney, one judge, and one justice sitting on the Supreme Court of Alabama.

My students came from mostly nursing and pre-medical backgrounds.  A few were science majors of some kind, and at least two were engineering majors.

The students were also at varying stages in their academic progress: some were freshmen, some were sophomores, two were juniors, and at least one was a senior.  Throughout the semester, I was impressed by students’ ability to extract important issues from dense legal readings and articulate complicated reasoning in nuanced and intelligent ways.

I thought about this “Health & Medicine” class this week when I came across this article published by the Brookings Institution.  The title of the article is “The Problems and Possibilities of Modern Genetics: A Paradigm for Social, Ethical, and Political Analysis.”  The authors are Eric Cohen and Robert P. George.   Cohen is editor of The New Atlantis and an adjunct fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.  George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University, the director of the James Madison Program in American Ideals & Institutions, and a fellow at the Hoover InstitutionRead the rest of this entry »

Stanley Fish Takes on David A. Strauss

In Arts & Letters, Jurisprudence, Law-and-Literature, Literary Theory & Criticism, The Supreme Court on May 11, 2010 at 10:09 am

In his weekly column for The New York Times, Stanley Fish takes to task David A. Strauss, whose method of constitutional interpretation, or explanation of constitutional interpretation, seems incoherent, pivoting on grand assumptions about the ways in which readers of a text construe the meaning(s) of that text.

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