Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Judge Sotomayor the Post-Modernist

The NY Times reports (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/15/us/15judge.html) that the judge gave a speech at Berkeley where she “questioned the famous notion — often invoked by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sandra Day O’Connor that a wise old man and a wise old woman would reach the same conclusion when deciding cases.” Instead she concluded “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life,”

What this brings to the surface is really a conflict between how enlightened modernity and post-modernity believe one can establish truth or a truth. The Ginsburg-O’Connor view is more akin to a modernist view and the idea that reason and the slow process of facts, discovery, and sound arguments will lead you to uncover the truth. On the other hand, the implication of Ms. Sotomayor’s questioning is that she is not so sure such a process will achieve that. This is probably because she does not believe in truth as found by the modernist methods. She’s more post-modern in that sense. It may not be that she doesn’t believe in a truth. She just may not arrive at that truth through “reason-alone” modernist methods. Instead, she believes experience is as good a guide as reason.

On the one hand, I tend to have a streak in me that believes reason alone cannot, by itself, uncover truth. Experience and even intuition play a vital role in uncovering truth. Logic, analysis, and reason do not always lead to the truth or the best outcome. On the other hand, I find it hard to believe that truth can be unreasonable. A conclusion has to have sound reasoning and logic before you agree to it. So, while reason is not the whole truth, reason does have to be satisfied before moving on to intuition or experience as a way to determining truthfulness. A truth cannot be true just because it jibes with experience or your own intuitive sense of how the world works. Experience is far more subjective than reason. Human beings should provide justification for the things they do, what they believe, etc. rather than to primarily rely on their primordial urges or intuitive feelings.

Reason separates us from animals and does enable us to move beyond simple existence and our own caveman urges. To emphasize experience over reason is to downgrade our humanity. Postmodernism, with its lack of strong reasons does in fact seem to make us less human in many ways. Let’s hope a Supreme Court judge realizes that, as a judge, reason should have a primary role in how she arrives at opinions.

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