Philosophy and Catholic Social Teaching in the Legal System Conor dickson

Pope Francis’ Laudato Si provides a framework for Catholic Social Teaching that can and should be adopted by the modern citizen. His writing especially focuses on the dignity of both human beings and the planet in the face of modern corruption. The protection of dignity in today’s world is crucial for humans and the environment, and perhaps the best way to secure the dignity of life and planet is through both domestic and international law. While there are certainly concerns for human dignity around the globe, the United States in particular is home to corruption and hate that should not exist in the country that claims to be a role model for freedom. The United States Government and Police forces make extremely important ethical decisions every day that directly correlate to the dignity and respect of other human beings. I hope that through studying Philosophy at the University of Scranton I can later pursue a degree in Law and legally defend the principles presented by Pope Francis in Laudato Si.

Ethics, Freedom, Justice

Catholic Social Teaching and Philosophy are intertwined in countless ways. Immanuel Kant was an eighteenth century German philosopher who founded Deontology, a philosophical framework that focuses on a human being’s duty. Laudato Si directly reflects Kant’s notions about human dignity. Kant believed that since each human individually holds themselves to have dignity, we must adopt a notion of universality to this idea. He developed the categorical imperative, which he saw as the first step to an objective morality. While it can be formulated and thought about in a variety of different ways, the categorical imperative is most practically described as “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means” (Kant 36)

Philosophy is critical in developing practical law

The United States has implemented policies and practices over the years that directly contradict with Pope Francis’ depiction of human dignity, which is very concerning as an American. Our government has a moral obligation to reform the United States Justice System until it reflects a truly equal respect for human dignity. According to the Prison Policy Initiave, while Caucasians make up 64% of the United States population, they only account for 39% of the United States prison population. African-Americans, on the other hand, make up 40% of the United States prison population but only 13% of the United States population overall. A country claiming to equally enforce its laws amongst all races should not have such a discrepancy between its statistics.

Catholic Social Teaching on dignity can help reform the United States prison system

Students and Faculty members at Seton Hall Law School in Newark, New Jersey recently put this statistical racial bias to the test in a short Vice documentary titled “Driving While Black in New Jersey”. The team from Seton Hall patiently recorded hand-written data from inside courtrooms in Bloomfield, New Jersey. They took notes about the citizens that they saw, and quickly noticed that there were a disparaging number of minorities receiving traffic fines in a town that has a majority white population. “78% of stops made by Bloomfield Police were African Americans or Latinos, but Bloomfield is 60% white” (Vice)

Bloomfield Traffic Courts may be profiting off racial profiling

The team discovered that many of these targeted citizens were receiving tickets for violations unrelated to the original stop, and that most of the victims of these tickets chose to plead guilty to avoid later court fees. Although the Bloomfield Police are certainly not guilty of assaulting or shooting anybody in this instance, the overall attitude towards the ticketing practice in the town is very flawed. “When the public is perceived as the cash cow for a municipality, that’s a very adverse relationship, and nothing good can come of it.” (Vice)

Laws reflect USA's collective morality

There is a need for Public Policy in the United States to adopt laws that are more committed to the prospect of human dignity. Philosophy, specifically Kant’s categorical imperative, is critical to the process of developing moral laws that account for this universal dignity as well as avoid contradiction. Pursuing a degree in Philosophy, especially from a Jesuit University, will allow me to focus my study and practice of law later in my life on a commitment to the common good. My philosophy major allows me to think in depth about moral and ethical issues, but also about how they apply practically in our time, and that is what interests me so much about the law. To me, the law is nothing more than the exemplification of our morals as a society, and because of that, I believe we have a duty to uphold justice to the best of our ability. As Pope Francis continuously says throughout Laudato Si, we have a duty to uphold human dignity and I think that there should be no exception there for anyone, not the Police, not the Government, and especially not profit-seeking businesses.

"The Innocence Project, founded in 1992 by Peter Neufeld and Barry Scheck at Cardozo School of Law, exonerates the wrongly convicted through DNA testing and reforms the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice...the Innocence Project's mission is to free the staggering number of innocent people who remain incarcerated, and to bring reform to the system responsible for their unjust imprisonment." (Innocence Project)

Restoring human dignity in the United States' legal system can change lives
Pope Francis

Laudato Si is critical in these developing times. As technology continues to grow exponentially, no one can be quite sure what the world is going to be like in a few decades. Pope Francis offers humanity a maxim by which to live their lives in commitment to each other and the planet. Through his writing, he communicates clearly the hypocrisy and immorality of our world, where some live in luxury while others starve to death. While Laudato Si calls for this change in ideals, the law is where the real change needs to happen. Philosophical frameworks are the best way to justify the legal system and the combination of Philosophy and Law studies will allow me to practically implement ethics, as well as Catholic Social Teaching, into my career.


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