AGAINST “RULES” OF PROFESSIONAL ETHICS

I. Prologue

This is a conceptual argument against the use of rules or codes of professional conduct as a means to enforce professional ethics or morality because such rules are unavoidably conceptually arbitrary, random, and indeterminate and contradict the foundational concepts of our rule of law such as Due Process and Equal Protection and thus are immoral; are unnecessary given the availability of criminal and civil law to enforce whatever rules or codes of professional ethics are intended to enforce; and their teleological and pragmatic rule following works against the diversity of cultural and individual identity the rhetoric of United States rule of law culture states it wants in its culture of law.

 
The relationship between law and morality is fertile and omnipresent ground for analysis and argument in law in particular in philosophy of law. This is true of both analytic philosophy and of post-modern social justice continental versions of philosophy that used to be called in my law school days critical legal studies but now seem to be calling themselves critical legal realism among many other names. Many would argue all law regardless of whether it is a civil, criminal, administrative, or whatever form serves only to enforce dominant cultural and social power structures of the social group Powers-that-be creating and enforcing the rule of law. However, even if true, such structural evil would not be a sound basis nor a practical basis to argue for elimination of all rules that are called laws — at most it would be a basis for modification or elimination of some, many, or most; inevitably, modern civilization would not and perhaps cannot accept anarchy and “the greater evil of private retribution” instead of some form of law. ( Holmes Jr., Oliver Wendell. The Common Law. Holmes Press: Middleton, Delaware (2012) pp. 25-26.)

 
Similarly, except for outcaste nihilists, no one disputes ethics is a good and all assume inferentially that having rules of ethics is a good. There is a universally assumed inference from “ethics is good” to “rules of ethics are good”. Thus, what once were aspirational, exemplary, or at best custom and etiquette paradigms of professional conduct, often expressed informally and enforced informally, have become omnipresent rules or codes of professional conduct formally expressed and multiplying constantly so as to govern the conduct of every law student, lawyer, and judge in every known Bar of which I am aware and in every activity in every legal forum varying from the lowest clerk-magistrate conducting a traffic hearing or complaint application and on up to the Supremes of the United States and of each state. All assume rules of ethics are as necessary as are rules of law. Even though the Wittgensteinian Rule Following Paradox both as initially argued by Wittgenstein and as developed in its Kripkenstein versions provides fertile ground for challenging this assumption, legal culture ignores this Paradox and its implications when it comes to procreating rules and codes of rules of professional conduct.

 
The assumption that rules of ethics are as necessary as the rule of law is conceptually unsound and as argument is invalid. The Rule Following Paradox undermines not only the validity of the conclusion that rules of ethics are a necessary good but also the soundness of this inference when contemplated in the state of affairs in which and by which rules of ethics are enforced. Ultimately, conceptually through contemplation of the Rule Following Paradox, the conclusion must be that formal rules of ethics which by necessity must be enforced by some form of violence (such as by denying one the ability to earn a living as an attorney) serve only to enforce dominant cultural and social power structures of the social group creating and enforcing the rules of ethics. Given the rhetoric of present legal culture in the United States worshiping diversity of culture and individual egalitarianism as to meaning and understanding and even happiness in life, formal codified rules of ethics are not a good but an arbitrary and random structural enforcement of power dominance whose limited practical value for promoting and marketing a desired image of the legal profession is unnecessary while doing more harm than good. Codes of Ethics are unnecessary both conceptually and practically because the universal presence and acceptance of the rule of law in present society in and through criminal and civil law with its centuries of substantive and procedural Due Process guidance serves whatever purposes — including aesthetic purposes of image promoting and marketing the business of law as a profession — those in power desire to promulgate through codes of rules of ethics.

 
For purposes of this essay, I assume foundationalism in ethics: morally good principles are objective or natural kinds in reality existing either in the mind of God; as entities somewhere in the physical or some other universe; or wherever you want the Good to be. If the Good is actually some kind of social construct, my arguments here would only be stronger not weaker. Thus, we can avoid meta-ethics problems with rules of ethics. This essay is a conceptual analysis, though it could just as easily be a practical one. I keep it conceptual because my argument is a radical one disliked by all aspects and practitioners of the profession of law; as I have argued elsewhere, the practice of law has become a religion for many lawyers and in particular for those who make a living pontificating on the law as a reflection of natural law; as an embodiment of Rawlsian ethics; or as an exemplification of any variety of a vast quantity of other available conceptualizations equating ethics with some kind of either universal cosmic justice social construct good or with a universal morality — even social construct relativist theories of ethics assume a morality of universal application though they go through great distortions to avoid saying so. (See generally, Neiman, Susan. EVIL IN MODERN THOUGHT, an alternative history of philosophy. Princeton University Press: Princeton, N.J. (2002)). Regardless of my assuming there are objectively sound moral principles or entities of the Good, or whatever, it does not follow there can be objective understanding, interpretation, or even meaning for rule following called codes of ethics. Thus, my goal here is to create conceptual doubt for the omnipresent assumption that rules of ethics are necessary; once the doubt begins, practical and empirical support will be easy to find.

 
Personally, I admit to being a dupe in the random and arbitrary structural evil made up of professional rules of ethics. Personally, I also admit to having experienced the pain of watching many other good and honest attorneys become dupes of this random and arbitrary evil called “codes of ethics” as a result of their honest cultural and social inability to understand the dominant cultural language, etiquette, or customs of the wordgame rules or codes of professional ethics. This experience is my motivation for finally writing in essay form my conclusions reached during twenty-five years of trial practice. I say dupes instead of victims because we all come into the practice of law intentionally and knowingly and fully aware there exist professional rules of ethics we must follow or they will bite us if we do not. However, many of us because of a lack of sophistication and cultural indoctrination into the dominant culture of those writing and enforcing such codes of rules were duped into the naive belief indoctrinated into us by law school and the profession that these rules can be knowingly and intentionally followed and even understood and interpreted by anyone with a sense of fairness guided by rationality and that they are so enforced in a rational manner and with a sense of fairness (which they are not). It is this dangerous delusion protecting the emperor from admitting the nakedness of their clothing I am attacking. There is no problem with having a wordgame of ethics to promote standards of conduct and conversations about acceptable conduct; it is quite another form of life to have rules enforced by violence in such a wordgame and giving it a final necessary attribute of violence — the violence consisting of financial ruin and denial of an attorney’s ability to practice law.

 
Though much of my rule following analysis could erroneously be applied to law following, this is not my intention nor would it be rationally sound to do so. To paraphrase Voltaire, even if law following were ultimately to be shown to be a meaningless concept no better than a leap in the dark, if the rule of law did not exist, it would be necessary to invent it. It does not follow from the fact the United States was founded upon a rebellion in which its founders were considered by the rule of law to be criminals and traitors who would be hanged if caught that we should be an anarchy. However, if rule following in the wordgame of professional ethics is conceptual nonsense, it does follow we should be an anarchy as to professional rules of ethics because demanding logically impossible rule following from individuals is itself an immoral demand especially when the rules are enforced by violence; i.e., to demand the blind to see or to demand one both be and not be at the same time to avoid punishment are different in degree but not in substance to demanding one follow a teleological or even pragmatic rule whose meaning and rule following is inherently conceptually unknown or non-existent.

II. Realism Not Idealism Is Assumed

While assuming moral realism and not advocating nihilism, I am also not advocating nor admitting to ethical idealism by my assumption of a moral reality. In my lifetime, I have seen both ethics and law become secular religions. Though some dispute whether the latter is entitled to such worship, almost no one presently disputes ethics and morality and any rule following called ethical and moral rule following as entitled to such worship. This idealism toward ethics and its rule following has no basis in the reality of professional codes of ethics especially in the law. The first code of ethics for any Bar in the United States was adopted by the State of Alabama on 14 December 1887 and it served as the foundation for the canons of ethics of the American Bar Association which then spread to almost all states. The supposed motive was:

… to advance the science of jurisprudence, to promote the administration of justice throughout the State, uphold the honor of the profession of the profession of the law, and establish cordial intercourse among the members of the Bar of Alabama.

The object of the Code of Ethics is to condemn practices which have prevailed, and
which should be avoided, and to set the seal of condemnation of the association upon certain conduct which has been practiced to the detriment of the profession.

— Jones, Walter Burgwyn. “First Legal Code of Ethics Adopted in the United States”. American Bar Association Journal. Vol. 8, No.2 (Feb. 1922) pp. 111-113.

 

 

Beautiful sounding words but the reality of the goals and purposes of these words was to create rules to use and to be useful against “carpetbagger” lawyers and judges whom the esteemed lawyers and jurists of Alabama detested while being more than willing to accept in 1887 and for another seventy five years an Alabama in which racism and classism were not only considered morally good but this supposed Good was enforced by supposed ethical law following and rule following requiring courses of action varying from Jim Crow laws and social serfdom to mob lynching and forced de jure and de facto segregation of white from black and poor from rich. Id. Just as the Alabama legal code of ethics did nothing to make Alabama attorneys take courses of action now universally assumed to be correct and required by ethics and morality (in fact, given its true motive to control so-called carpet baggers who were trying to change Alabama culture to what is now socially considered to be a better society, this Code probably did more harm than good), there is no factual or rational reason for assuming any present legal code of ethics is making the law any more moral or an aspect of the Good with it than without it — even if I assume there is a moral reality the “science of jurisprudence” can know just as the eminent lawyers and jurists of 1887 Alabama assumed. Id. For those who worship the rule of law and moral reality, present professional rules of ethics may be as much a mockery of their worship of the law and morality as was the 1887 Alabama code of ethics. Regardless of how real morality may be, especially given the conceptual problem presented by the Rule Following Paradox, academic scholarship and the law should not assume rules of ethics are moral.

 
III. The Rule Following Paradox

The presently called Rule Following Paradox (RFP) is shorthand for various contemplations of problems in the philosophy of language and of mathematics by the analytic philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein in his Philosophical Investigations (PI); the most direct expression of the Paradox in the PI is: “[t]his was our paradox: no course of action could be determined by a rule, because any course of action can be made out to accord with the rule”. (Wittgenstein, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. Hacker, P.M.S.; Anscombe, G.E.M; Schulte, Joachim; trans. Blackwell Publishing: West Sussex, United Kingdom (2009) at ¶201.) This Paradox was highlighted; made more explicit; brought into the mainstream limelight; and studied in analytic detail instead of the dialectical Socratic method of the PI by the philosopher Saul Kripke in his Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language in which he writes this Paradox is: “the most radical and original skeptical problem that philosophy has seen to date” because it undermines the possibility of ever following rules in our use of language and thus the possibility of ever having objectivity in the meaning of words. Because many dispute Kripke’s treatment of the RFP, it is often treated as a distinct RFP and referenced as Kripkenstein.

 
It is not my purpose here to get into a rigorous all-encompassing contemplation of RFP. Given my realist assumption that moral principles or the Good make up an objective reality we can come to know and understand as we do sense experience, there is no need to do so. A basic understanding of the essence of the RFP and of how it occurs in natural language is sufficient.

 

Both Wittgenstein and Kripke and most philosophers contemplating RFP begin by analyzing mathematical language as an expression of RFP because mathematical language is the clearest example of what is almost universally assumed to be clear and precise rule following expressed in unambiguous words applicable to an infinite number of cases that share with natural language the potential for an infinite number of meanings for words, sentences, and rules derived from a finite set of experiences — in the case of mathematical language unlike natural languages however, the infinite possibilities are clear and precise and the rules determinate. If RFP is a real problem in the language of mathematics, it is a real problem in any natural language. Therefore, I will also begin with an analysis of RFP in mathematical language before natural language.

 
Since I have assumed realism for moral principles and their Good, for consistency, I will assume realism for numbers and numeric entities in my reasoning. Again, as with morality and ethics, if numbers are really just social constructs, my argument here only becomes stronger.

 
We must begin by a holistic understanding of the transition from the finite nature of our empirical experiences including the experience of speaking a language to the infinite conceptual possibilities of reason and language. Not only is this transition the source of the RFP problem, it also marks a conceptual wordgame distinction between descriptive and normative rule following:

… although an intelligence tester may suppose that there is only one possible continuation to the sequence 2, 4, 6, 8, . . ., mathematical and philosophical sophisticates know that an indefinite number of rules (even rules stated in terms of mathematical functions as conventional as ordinary polynomials) are compatible with any finite initial segment. So, if the tester urges me to respond, after 2, 4, 6, 8, . . ., with the unique appropriate next number, the proper response is that no such unique number exists, nor is there any unique (rule determined) infinite sequence that continues the given one.

— Kripke, Saul. Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA (1982) p. 60.

 

 

An intelligence tester asking me to predict the next number in the sequence 2, 4, 6, 8, . . . is on the surface testing my understanding of rule following having descriptive meaning — in this case the descriptive meaning is also predictive. The obvious course of action for anyone with the necessary grammar school experience and understanding is to predict the correct answer to be 10; the rule to be followed is the function add(x + 2). However, this answer is not obvious because of any descriptive rule following that is an experienced fact of this state of affairs in the same way the numbers are experienced facts: we experience no addition or other function in the facts. There are an infinite number of possible rules I can experience and follow and resulting courses of action that will predict the next number in this series and go on to predict any number at any point in a following infinite series of courses of action and of their numbers.

 

The remainder of this essay is at AGAINST RULES OF PROFESSIONAL ETHICS .

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