Don't Go to Lawyers for Moral Guidance

In J. Heter and B. Coppenger (ed.), Better Call Saul and Philosophy: I Think Therefore I Scam. New York, NY, USA: pp. 13-20 (2022)
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If it were followed by “I’m a president,” Richard Nixon’s televised denial (“I am not a crook”) would be tantamount to Jimmy McGill’s self-portrayal in Better Call Saul. Out of the crooked timber of humanity, an honest president or an ethical lawyer rarely emerges. They’re like needles in a haystack. Nevertheless, it’s worthwhile to search for these rare artifacts and, in the process, ask, “Why do so many lawyers (and presidents) fall from grace, transforming into morally bad or corrupt actors?” The ability to be a good or ethical person can deteriorate over time. In their personal and professional lives, people can make consistently poor choices in their capacity as moral agents. In turn, they cultivate flawed habits or what are often referred to as vices. Jimmy McGill’s trajectory is, without a doubt, a harrowing story of moral decline. In some ways, his transformation into Saul Goodman resembles a trite story about how a profession, lawyering, corrupts its practitioners. On a deeper level, McGill’s journey involves a fundamental change in how he habitually interacts with his environment, a change of motivation and disposition that is, almost entirely, a change for the worse. To know the content of Jimmy’s character is to be familiar with his story, a story of moral decline and ethical failure.

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Shane Ralston
University of Ottawa (PhD)


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