Arguing Excellence: A Logocratic Approach to Measures of Virtue
Scott Brewer, Professor of Law, Harvard University
In this lecture, Professor Brewer explored what kinds of competitive success are valuable, and why they are valuable. This topic lies at the intersection of three concepts: excellence, contest, and argument. Who deserves what, on the basis of what kinds of competitive measures (including, for example, formal competitions in sports, in litigation, in elections, and in academic tests) is one of the most important and contentious issues in contemporary law, politics, and culture. From times ancient through current, philosophers from many cultures have offered sustained inquiries into concepts of human excellence and the kinds of contests that ought to be used to measure it.
Professor Brewer explored the contributions that a theory of argument (the Logocratic Method, a philosophical explanation of the nature of arguments and some of their principal uses) can make to explaining these questions regarding the value of competitive rank in different kinds of contests. As he'll discuss, the assessment of the value of competitive rank centrally involves arguments in at least four ways: (i) arguing for an explanatorily rich conception of the concept of "excellence" itself (he argues for the utility of the concept of virtue as functional excellence, i.e., excellence measured by the capacity to achieve a given goal); (ii) arguing for what ought to be the formal criteria that define a given contest, that is, what criteria are to be used to measure competitive rank; (iii) arguing about how valuable it is to achieve high competitive rank in a particular contest, given its formal structure; and (iv) arguing for the interpretation and application of rules used to assess competitive performance in a particular contest. Although this analysis is limited to neither sporting nor litigative contests, Professor Brewer anchored his analysis in three examples drawn from those areas: first, a proposal years ago to create an international basketball league that placed height restrictions on eligible players; second, the 2001 United States Supreme Court decision in PGA Tour, Inc. v. Casey Martin (does the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 require a golf association to make an exception to a rule by permitting a contestant who is "disabled" within the meaning of the statute to use a golf cart to move from hole to hole when other competitors are required to walk?); third, the 2020 Swiss Federal Supreme Court decision in the Caster Semenya case (do international sporting laws and regulations permit an international sports organization to dictate how much testosterone a person may have in order to qualify to compete as a woman?).