February 22, 2016

Ayers on Atticus Finch's "Half-Virtuous" Integrity

Andrew B. Ayers, Office of the Solicitor General of New York, has published The Half-Virtuous Integrity of Atticus Finch. Here is the abstract.
Atticus Finch has two kinds of integrity, but only one of them is genuinely admirable. On one hand, he is rightly admired for standing up for the things he values. On the other hand, Atticus is also praised for being true to himself — being “the same in his house as he is on the public streets.” But this kind of integrity, contrary to what many lawyers and legal ethicists believe, is not a virtue. Far from being virtuous, a solidly integrated self, like Atticus’s, can sometimes make it harder to act virtuously. For example, Atticus’s self-understanding is solidly integrated around his commitment to the justice system. But this self-integration prevents him from noticing his only chance to save Tom Robinson’s life. To Kill a Mockingbird shows that it is sometimes better to have tension in our identities. The identities of characters like Calpurnia, Maudie, and others are conflicted or divided; but these tensions allow them to be admirable in ways that Atticus is not. They can cross social boundaries, subvert their own social roles, and radically criticize their community precisely because their identities are fragmented or in flux. This should be inspiring to lawyers, and to the legal ethicists who have long worried that lawyers’ roles will cause schisms in their identities. Sometimes tension in the self is exactly what we need to be good.
Download the article from SSRN at the link.

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