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Read, Write, Do

Legal Arguments & the Context of Words

In his chapter three of Winning Arguments, Fish argues that the purpose of legal arguments is not to evaluate whether someone is a good or bad person, rather whether or not he or she was capable of committing the crime through “interpretive constructs.” More specifically, legal arguments evaluate whether a person committed the specific crime through rules already in place prior to the case. For example, he writes, “All persons are equal before the law.” In other words, the person must be evaluated without assumptions and labels such as having a criminal record, race, or other associations. In sum then, Fish suggests that there is no universal law to help decide every crime, rather “interruptive constructs” already in place help assess if a person is guilty or innocent of the crime at hand.

In an article by Gloria Maylor titled Hers, Maylor argues that it is not words themselves that do harm or good, rather it is the words meaning and its context. More specifically, she discusses the usage of the n-word in different contexts. For example, she writes, “… but it was set within contexts and inflections that caused it to register in my mind as something else.” In other words, the n-word’s interpretation is dependent upon who says it and how they say it. In sum then, Maylor suggests the n-word is just a word until it is given a certain meaning in a certain context. 

While Fish argues that we understand argument through “interpretive constructs,” Maylor argues that we understand words through their contexts.

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