Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2002


Professional responsibility courses, Legal ethics


Ethics and Political Philosophy | Legal Education | Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility | Legal Profession


I would like to do several things in this essay. First, I am interested in the sources of students' wariness about moral reasoning and claims about objectivity and truth in ethics. Sometimes I feel like a teacher of geography who must confront a deeply entrenched belief that the earth is flat. The earth is not flat, nor is ethics just a matter of opinion, but one wonders why students persist in thinking the opposite. Teaching effectively requires an understanding of where students are coming from. Accordingly, the opening section of this essay is structured around a series of hypotheses to explain the origins of student disquiet with moral reasoning in professional education. Following this initial inquiry, I would like to review briefly the scholarship on skepticism and relativism, to see how ethical theorists respond to this challenge. Despite glances at metaethical issues and an occasional detour into technical matters, I believe that when teaching practical ethics, such as a law school professional responsibility course, one can safely avoid many of the questions that preoccupy moral philosophers. One of the goals of this essay is therefore to suggest some strategies for responding to some commonly expressed concerns of students about ethics, while steering clear of technical quagmires.


This article pre-dates the author’s tenure at Cornell Law School.

Publication Citation

Published in: University of San Francisco Law Review, vol. 36, no. 3 (Spring 2002).