Litigation, humility, and character: join me at Big Questions Online

by Walter Olson on July 17, 2012

What does the pursuit of litigation do to litigants’ characters? What does it do to the character of organizations and whole societies? Does it undermine the humility that some (though not all) of us deem an important virtue in persons and institutions?

This week I’m leading a discussion on that subject at the John Templeton Foundation’s Big Questions Online. It starts with a brief essay in which I note the older view, held by many religions and philosophical schools but now out of favor in much of academia, that litigiousness is a kind of vice, to which people are perhaps peculiarly susceptible if they take to an extreme what is otherwise the virtuous impulse to pursue justice. I cite familiar sources (Abraham Lincoln, Bleak House) as well as those perhaps less familiar (Kleist’s Michael Kohlhaas) that shed light on how pride in one’s own quarrels, even (especially?) those that are rightful, can distort perceptions and harden sympathies.

My observations, however, do no more than scratch the surface of a big subject on which there is much to say. It’s a moderated discussion and your comments are welcome through the week. And please pass on word to others who might be interested.