As the USC Trojans prepared to play the California Bears at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum last fall, there was another face-off scheduled on campus: Weston Rowland vs. Ronald Dworkin. As part of his Philosophy of Law midterm, Rowland, a USC College junior, was asked to go head to head with Dworkin, a preeminent scholar in constitutional law. The arena was chapter six of Dworkin’s Law’s Empire.
For Rowland, identifying the successes and failures of Dworkin’s argument regarding an associative obligation to obey the law because of a shared set of responsibilities between family or neighbors, was exhilarating.
“And, besides generally being a lot of fun,” Rowland said, “the skill of critical reading — the use of reasoning to find problems and solutions within a written work — is a pivotal skill in the American legal system and beyond.”
This, as Professor Andrei Marmor pointed out, is exactly the foundation for the College’s new interdisciplinary major in philosophy, politics and law (PPL).
“Philosophy teaches you to read a text carefully and critically,” said Marmor, professor of philosophy in the College and Maurice Jones Jr. Professor of Law in the USC Gould School of Law. “It teaches you to extract the argument from a text and to closely examine that argument’s premises and how these are related to the conclusion. When you learn to use the tools of philosophy, you can apply them to any subject.”
The PPL major, which is offered through the College’s School of Philosophy, allows students to select from a range of courses in nine areas including logic; moral and political philosophy; constitutional politics; history of philosophy; and politics, law and public policy. Concepts in American Law, a course tailored specifically to PPL students, is being offered for the first time through the USC Gould School of Law this spring.
Marmor, who is also the program’s faculty adviser and director of the USC Center for Law and Philosophy, noted that the initial inspiration behind creating the program was the philosophy, politics and economics major that Oxford University first offered in the 1920s.
Like Oxford’s design, the College’s PPL program combines the skills and analytical rigor of philosophy with a broader background in politics and social issues. However, Marmor and his colleagues believe law rather than economics more closely matches the expertise required in the study of philosophy and politics.
“USC has taken the lead in combining philosophy and politics with law and we believe it’s a better fit,” he said.”
Last year, the School of Philosophy revised its undergraduate program. Due to the overlap with the new PPL major, the ethics, law and value theory emphasis is no longer being offered after the 2010–11 academic year. Students now have the option of earning a bachelor of arts in philosophy or philosophy, politics and law, and both may be taken with honors.
For Rowland, a transfer student from Tucson, Ariz., the PPL major was primarily what attracted him to USC.
“There aren’t many programs that offer a tri-focus on philosophy, politics and law,” he said. “It’s true the PPL program can teach you how to be a politician or a lawyer. But more so, through a comprehensive, interdisciplinary education, the major teaches you how to be a good politician or a good lawyer.”
Rowland joins more than 100 USC College students who have selected the PPL major since it debuted in Fall 2009.
Among them is first-year student Marissa Roy from Pasadena, Calif., who said she was drawn to USC College’s vibrant academic environment that supports unique programs such as PPL.
“The world demands a more well-rounded education,” she said. “And having the ability to take a bunch of different classes in several areas that all relate and culminate in one college experience is amazing.”
While both Rowland and Roy plan to pursue careers in law, Marmor cautions that the objective of the PPL program was not exclusively to create a “mini law school.”
“It would be a mistake to regard PPL as just a pre-law type of undergraduate education,” he said. “I think it’s one of the best pre-law undergraduate programs out there, but we designed PPL with enough flexibility and with enough breadth so as not constrain graduates in the major.”
In addition to law school, PPL graduates may go on, for example, to careers in public service or politics; or they may opt to attend graduate school in philosophy or political science.
“Law and politics involve so much more than applying fact; it’s about analyzing situations and trying to figure out how to deal with them,” Roy said. “Some might say that a strong grounding in philosophy is archaic, but I believe it is the key to understanding and overcoming modern crises whatever your chosen field might be.”