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Sophistry watch

By       Message Evan Whitton     Permalink
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Court reporters and legal analysts should be trained in sophistry in order to recognize it when it issues from the mouths of judges and lawyers, and to then tick it off for their customers.

Sophistry is the art of lying. A liar tries to persuade others to believe things he believes to be false. The motive is gain. The Sophists taught Athenian lawyers how to do it 2,500 years ago. Nothing changes. A US lawyer, Charles Curtis, said a lawyer's function "is to lie for his client. He is required to make statements as well as arguments which he does not believe in."

A prudent legal system thus keeps lawyers on the tightest of leashes. The legal system used in England and its former colonies is not prudent: it even allows lawyers to control evidence, and judges are not trained as judges -- they are lawyers trained in sophistry one day and judges the next.

The public thus cannot know whether judges' rulings and opinions are based on fairness or on sophistry for some other reason.

That leads to alienation, but judges believe no one can stop them resorting to sophistry if they want to. US Chief "Justice" (1969-86) Warren Burger (1907-95) told John Marshall Harlin II: "We are the Supreme Court and we can do what we want."

It would thus be useful if a legal analyst explained in simple terms the sophistry used in Bush v Gore (US Supreme Court, Monday, December 13, 2000). Five judges came up with a form of words which effectively said that democracy means you don't count all the votes.

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Evan Whitton was Chief Reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald and Reader (Associate Professor) in Journalism at Queensland University. He received the Walkley Award (Australia's Pulitzer) five times, and was Journalist of the Year 1983 for "courage (more...)

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Sophistry watch