After 3 years in law school and a year in Albuquerque clerking for the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, I am back to Massachusetts and back to working on my dissertation.
I went to law school in part because I wanted to be more involved in actually addressing inequalities that I was theorizing about in philosophy. Four years ago, I wrote a blog entry for my school explaining that I went to law school because I felt helpless, unable to find a way to do something about the injustices I saw around me. I am not sure that I am in a better place to change the world, as I had hoped that I would be. But I am certainly more aware of what some of the real life problems are that people face and how the legal system is implicated in those processes. Some of this came from actual courses, but most of it came from working with organizations, fellow classmates, and practitioners that I met in law school. These people and organizations are trying to change the world, and their expressions of the problems they face gave me lots to think about.
This year, I return to philosophy to write a dissertation, full of questions, and still motivated to do in addition to theorizing. I continue to believe, however, that philosophy and action are not fully distinct and that philosophers can play a positive role in combating oppression and injustice by examining tensions, thinking through institutional design, and analyzing justifications for the world as it is. But, I think that we must remain close to the political, social, legal, and moral issues in the real world to do so. In this way, I remain a non-ideal theorist.
Here are some of the questions and problems that have been on my mind since I finished law school and have continued to stay in touch with legal practitioners:
Certainly our current prison system is unjust. It is overcrowded and full of violence. Is there a just prison system? What would it look like? Is it so far from what we have now that prison abolitionism is the best way forward? What would be the next practical step in addressing the harms caused by the current prison system?
Have existing civil rights laws failed to do what they were enacted to do? How have non-oppressed groups co-opted these structures? How can we create laws that will be more effective than the earlier civil rights laws? Who has benefited most from the current laws and who has not?
How can oppressed groups fight their oppression without making it worse for other oppressed groups? Another version of this question is, how do we build truly intersectional feminist/anti-racist/disability-focused, etc. practices, beyond theories?
These are just some questions I have, and I know that other people have certainly thought and written about these ideas. I am immensely grateful to have the opportunity as a graduate student to take the time to read, write, and think in hopes that I can add to the work that others have already done in thinking through these problems.