Dissertation Defense: Molly Wilder
Name: Molly Wilder
Advisor: David Luban, Ph.D.
Title: Ambassadors For Pluralism: Relational Autonomy Promotion as the Fundamental Lawyerly Virtue
What practical ethical approach could both encourage what is uniquely valuable about the American legal profession, despite the harms it causes, and provide individual lawyers with flourishing lives within their political communities? In this dissertation, I argue that such flourishing is attainable when lawyers promote the autonomy of their clients in a relational way that takes into account the relations and responsibilities that both lawyers and clients have with themselves, specific others, and the American political community. I focus first on the harms that lawyers characteristically cause and argue that those harms arise in situations that may be fruitfully redescribed as pluralistic dilemmas—dilemmas that involve a conflict between two or more ethical conceptions. I then argue for a specific conception of pluralism that encourages lawyers to be broadly open to representing clients with whom they have deep ethical disagreements, but in a manner that maintains their integrity and responsibility to the American political community. Next I propose a relational conception of autonomy that I argue lawyers should promote in their clients and in themselves. That conception includes elements of self-mastery as well as elements of personal responsibility, which allows this conception to provide an individual-level approach to the responsible yet broad conception of pluralism for which I have argued. Finally, I go into detail on how lawyers might promote this relational conception of autonomy on the model of an Aristotelian virtue and what that virtue might look like in practice.