Finding God in the Appellate Brief: A Quick Follow-Up

My post on finding God in the appellate brief has garnered a bit of attention, some appreciative and some not (see the second comment). I did want to clarify what I meant by the reference to God, which seems to have upset some people. First, I am not claiming that good briefs are written by God or under some sort of divine inspiration. Nor am I suggesting that believers write better briefs than unbelievers. Both of these claims strike me as patently absurd. Rather, I wanted to point out that a well-written brief exhibits a kind of beauty, the beauty of reason. A well-played game of chess shows the same sort beauty. My point is that this beauty can be taken by the believer as a trace of the presence of God. Not, mind you, as evidence of God’s exclusive handiwork, nor as evidence of superior moral or even intellectual merit. Rather, it is simply another trace of divine beauty in the world. Put in other terms, the point of the post was not to claim special merit for religious lawyering (whatever that might look like), but rather to see in good lawyering — religious or not — some spiritual beauty.

The other purpose of the post, of course, was to drop a wholly gratuitous reference to Matthew Arnold.

UPDATE: Will Baude writes:

But, and I do mean this non-contentiously, why God, particularly?….

I had always taken the structural beauty of human creations (like the brief, the chess game, or the City of Chicago) to be evidence of the presence and the reason of Mankind. I suppose as an empirical matter this tends to be a circle– those who believe in God think beauty confirms their world while those who believe that the world is chaotic or manmade or whatever else find their own structural theories confirmed.

But what strikes me as odd about chess and the appellate brief is that these are unquestionably the handiwork of man (divinely inspired or not). It always made more sense to me when people took the existence of golden-ratio snail-shells, or certain quantum physical equations, etc., as evidence of some mystic order and orderer of the universe (right or wrong). But here, that explanation doesn’t even seem necessary. So why find God rather than Paul Clement?

A good point to which I have two quick responses. First, I don’t offer the appellate brief as evidence of God’s existence. I look at a glorious sunset, and I experience it as a manifestation of God’s majesty or power. I am not sure, however, that is necessarily compelling evidence of God’s existence to the skeptic. I am not interested in apologetics here.

Second, human reason can be seen as a manifestation of God’s reason. The brief is surely Paul Clement’s handiwork, but Clement — in turn — is God’s handiwork, or (to tweak the point slightly to make it more congruent with my Mormon theology) Clement’s reason is a god-like attribute. To look on Will Baude or his well-crafted arguments is to see God.

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4 Responses

  1. Handfuls of Dust

    Nate Oman has a pair of posts about “Finding God” in the structural beauty of chess and appellate briefing here and here. Now, as a lover of structural beauty, I sympathize. I am also wowed by the structural beauty of…

  2. Chad says:

    Very interesting post and reply (from God’s handiwork, Will). I do wonder, however, to what extent appellate briefs manifest “the beauty of reason” or the beauty of rhetoric. I don’t feel the same solidness in reading a brief’s argument as I do when considering a philosophical argument. When I am impressed by a brief, I am impressed by its cleverness, not necessarily its reason or logic (perhaps this says something about the way I’m impressed). Is a good brief more like watching a dance finely executed, or listening to a good performace of Mozart? Why, in other words, isn’t a good brief more a performance than an exercise of reason?

    I wonder why I feel this way: is it because there is some truth I take it that philosophy is getting at, whereas in law there is no such truth, no unique answer I am compelled to agree with in any particular case? Or is it because briefs are designed to gather the best evidence/case for a particular side, rather than engaged in a distinerested search for the correct answer?

  3. Will Baude says:

    A related observation.

    In a well-written brief I do indeed see the beauty of reason. In a well-done oral argument, I see the beauty of performance. I was originally going to write a post comparing the two before I decided to explore the nature of divinity instead.

  4. Nate Oman says:

    Chad: I think that you have ODed a little on legal realism. Law is not mathematics, but that doesn’t mean that there are not on occasion right answers. Furthermore, even when there are not uniquely correct answers, there are still some answers that are better than others.

    You are right, however, that legal reasoning is an exercise in rhetoric rather than pure reason. Legal arguments are meant to persuade. They are not an organanon to discovering the truth. That said, good rhetoric will exhibit good arguments. Dressing up fallacious reasoning in shining rhetorical clothes still leaves you with fallacious reasoning and judges (or at least some significant subset of them) are not stupid.