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The Ten Commandments as Secular Historic Artifact or Sacred Religious Text: Using Modrovich V. Allegheny County to Illustrate How Words Create Reality


Ann Sinsheimer


University of Pittsburgh - School of Law


University of Maryland Law Journal of Race, Religion, Gender & Class, Vol. 5, p. 325, 2005
University of Pittsburgh Legal Studies Research Paper Series

Abstract:     
In his essay, The 'Ideograph: A Link Between Rhetoric and Ideology', Michael Calvin McGee proposes that our system of beliefs is shaped through and expressed by words. We are consciously and unconsciously conditioned and controlled by the words we hear and use. Words carry ideology and convey and create meaning. Like Chinese characters, words are 'ideographs that 'signify' and 'contain' a unique ideological commitment', that is frequently unquestioned. McGee also suggests that by understanding that a single word can carry ideology and that ideology can be expressed in a single word, we are better able to expose and evaluate ideology and choose to accept or reject such ideology. However, if we fail to recognize the ideographic nature of words, we risk creating and promoting a reality that is removed from our system of beliefs. For the legal community, McGee's theory of ideograph is an important tool to understand legal argument and to construct arguments that effectively persuade decision-makers. When lawyers and law students select a particular word, we consciously and unconsciously express a certain view of reality. Our choice of words can help to resolve conflict and create conflict. Words shape our jurisprudence. Through this article, I hope to summarize McGee's theory. To illustrate, I model how McGee's theory can develop a lawyer's critical thinking and writing skills by identifying the ideographs in the cases prior to Modrovich v. Allegheny Count and by applying these ideographs to analyze the Modrovich case and the various court documents filed in the dispute. I also use these materials to offer practical suggestions as to how ideographic analysis could be used to construct legal documents. Finally, I conclude with some thoughts on how ideographic analysis might be used in legal education, focusing particularly on how they could be used to teach legal writing.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 25

Keywords: legal writing, instruction, legal argument, words, meaning, rhetoric, ideology, ideographic analysis, Michael Calvin McGee, language, understanding, jurisprudence

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Date posted: June 2, 2009  

Suggested Citation

Sinsheimer, Ann, The Ten Commandments as Secular Historic Artifact or Sacred Religious Text: Using Modrovich V. Allegheny County to Illustrate How Words Create Reality. University of Maryland Law Journal of Race, Religion, Gender & Class, Vol. 5, p. 325, 2005; University of Pittsburgh Legal Studies Research Paper Series. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1412668

Contact Information

Ann Sinsheimer (Contact Author)
University of Pittsburgh - School of Law ( email )
3900 Forbes Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
United States
412-648-1281 (Phone)
412-648-2648 (Fax)
HOME PAGE: http://www.law.pitt.edu/faculty/profiles/sinsheimera

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