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Does anyone actually understand philosophy/sociology? - May 15th 2012, 03:19 PM

I'm currently at law school. As a compulsory subject, we have to take what is known as 'jurisprudence' (literally, legal theory). The subject essentially talks about the philosophy of law, whilst drawing on sociological aspects of the law.

I'm just going to put it out there: it honestly sucks.
I've been doing it for 11 weeks, and still am not quite sure what the subject is supposed to make me think about. We've been hearing about positivism (a sociology title given to legal theorists as well), formalism, pragmatism, etc. I understand what the theories are about and what theorists typically talk about, but I'm not understanding what I'm supposed to do when I'm posed questions such as: so-and-so is criticised for such-and-such a reason. Can you rebut this criticism?

What the hell do I do? Draw on other philosophies? Make my own up?

I dunno. It's not rule based, and that's kind of my problem. They don't tend to draw on any sort of practical example in its fullest, and they're not exactly specific (despite the fact that some theorists' books are usually 500+ pages).

How would one approach a philosophical question such as the aforementioned?
How does one study for a subject like this?
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Re: Does anyone actually understand philosophy/sociology? - May 15th 2012, 06:15 PM

wow this sounds scary! sorry i've got no advice, I was planning on going into law and taking socialogy at college but would you not recommend? is it really hard?
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Re: Does anyone actually understand philosophy/sociology? - May 15th 2012, 09:30 PM

It certainly depends on what the question is asking of you. I managed to ace two advanced philosophy courses in my first year, so I can offer some assistance.

If, for example, the statement is: Mill is criticized because his theory does not cover all bases of utilitarianism, you can take a number of different approaches - depending on what the question is asking of you. In Philosophy, it's so important to keep an open mind about everything. You must also realize that there is virtually no right answer. Once you come to terms with this notion, you enable yourself to think critically about the material in front of you.

You need to constantly ask questions and critique the material that you're examining. As Socrates said, "the unexamined life is not worth living". The nature of Philosophy is to question everything. Is this Philosopher correct in his argument? Why? Why not? Is he missing/ignoring a fundamental issue that should be addressed? How can we apply his principle in the real world? What limitations does this application promote? Can this theory every be practical? Etc. Again - keep asking questions.

Furthermore, the ability to refute yourself is a valuable skill in Philosophy. Often I would take one stance on a subject matter (i.e., utilitarianism) and would provide reasons for my decision. Once I have justified my stance, I feel it's important to put myself in the shoes of the critic and think "what are the weaknesses in my arguments? On which points could a critic attack?" I would then address those holes in my essay by outlining what a critic might say. Following that, I would reply to those "holes" in my arguments and refute the hypothetical critic. Does that make sense. It looks something like:

- Introduction
- Argument 1
- Argument 2
- Argument 3
- Critic Argument 1
- Reply/Refutation to Critic Argument 1
- Critic Argument 2
- Reply/Refutation to Critic Argument 2
- Conclusion

That's obviously just a brief outline of a simple essay I'd write (there can be more complex templates). But, I hope I made a bit of sense. The law encompasses many things, which makes for well-rounded lawyers (which is a good thing).

Good luck.

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Re: Does anyone actually understand philosophy/sociology? - May 15th 2012, 10:27 PM

Short and sweet - no
Did a paper on it and the answer was nooo.
Make up your own philosophy and try to survive. I have nothing to say to help except that everyone is allowed their own take on sociology and philosophy - so just include somewhere that this is Ďmy interpretation of the systemí. They canít argue with your interpretation.

Fun fact, philosophy majors donít cope as a general rule. And 60% of them drop out after the second semester.
Good luck!
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Re: Does anyone actually understand philosophy/sociology? - May 16th 2012, 02:23 AM

@ Charlie - it's not that philosophy is scary. I don't think philosophy is that scary at all. It, in my opinion, takes some very critical thinking to even get by. Whilst I'm fairly critical, especially in case-based questions, philosophies is on a whole other planet. It takes some determination, reading, etc. The author of the textbook for this subject, Raymond Wacks says: "Jurisprudence students are typically bewildered and uninitiated" and that we "all struggle with the content of this subject" because, well, there's just way too much to know of, and as a second year subject, it's possibly the most difficult subject you'll do in a law degree. To be honest, though, it's not the most difficult. Sure, it takes a lot of reading because no one theorist is the same in any way, but that's really not what the subject is about. It's about developing your critical thinking, and I think sociology would be a perfect decision to make for college.

@ Harvey - thanks buddy. Questioning does help, I s'pose. It's the right questions I have to ask, which can be daunting. I've already completed the assignment for the subject, but the exam is in two weeks and your suggested plan is a good outline.

@ Sarah - thank you. I've been thinking about what I should do in the exam, and I've pretty much got it down pat (looking at the questions, their contexts are repeated every year), so I can pretty much just take in exam answers and hope to god they're on the same topic.
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