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Event details of The Ethics of Unjust Advocacy
28 March 2024
16:15 -17:30

About the speaker

Michael Huemer received his BA from UC Berkeley and his PhD from Rutgers University. He is presently professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado at Boulder. He is the author of more than 80 academic articles in ethics, epistemology, political philosophy, and metaphysics, as well as ten amazing books that you should immediately buy, including The Problem of Political Authority (2013), Dialogues on Ethical Vegetarianism (2019), and Knowledge, Reality, and Value (2021). The work most relevant to his talk today is the book Justice Before the Law (2021) which, among other things, deals with questions of legal ethics.


 In legal ethics, it is standardly thought that the duty of an attorney is to zealously advocate for his client's interests, regardless of what impartial justice demands.

There are two arguments against this "zealous advocate" view. First: attempting to secure an outcome one knows to be unjust is, in general, morally wrong. When one's actions are likely to result in injustice, acting with indifference to their justice is also wrong. Therefore, defenders of the "zealous advocate" conception must identify some special condition that excuses this behavior in a lawyer. I consider and reject the most obvious accounts of this condition. 

Second: it is widely accepted that there are certain deceptive behaviors that a lawyer must not engage in, even if they would serve his client's interests. Notably, a lawyer may not lie in court, nor may he suborn perjury. But there is no morally significant difference between this proscribed sort of behavior and the other, supposedly permissible (and required) ways of advocating for an unjust outcome. The intentional exploitation of misleading statements, for example, is not morally superior to lying.

The standard view of legal ethics is therefore mistaken: it is morally wrong for lawyers to serve their clients by advocating for unjust legal outcomes.


This lecture will be online only.  However, guests are welcome to watch the presentation together via zoom in REC A3.01. For the zoom link, please register via the button below.