Learning From Judge Judy
by Daniel Luzer
Another entry in the department of “They Really Teach That in College?” It turns out students at UC Berkeley can learn to debate effectively through a course called Arguing with Judge Judy: Popular Logic on TV Judge Shows.
This course does not actually teach student how to argue with Judge Judy, the acerbic former New York Family Court judge who arbitrates over small claims cases on an American reality court show bearing her name. (Regular viewers of the program know that no one can argue effectively with Judge Judy.)
Instead, students in the course learn about the faulty logic so offered in real life conversations. According to the course description,
A fascinating aspect of these shows from a rhetorical point of view is the number of arguments made by the litigants that are utterly illogical, or perversions of standard logic, and yet are used over and over again. [Participants often] present a perverted form of the logical strategy called “a fortiori” argument [“from the stronger”] in Latin. The seminar will be concerned with identifying such apparently popular logical fallacies on “Judge Judy” and “The People’s Court” and discussing why such strategies are so widespread.
In real court, for instance, the question “do you owe your ex-boyfriend $400 for that time you burned his leather coat with a cigarette?” is answered with a picture of the burned jacket and receipt for a new jacket. In Judge Judy’s courtroom, however, the defendant will often respond with something along the lines of “I don’t smoke!” or “he bought that jacket at Wall-Mart.”
The Berkeley course description explains that this isn’t a legal class:
Students who are interested in logic, public disputation, argumentation, and popular notions of fairness will probably be interested in this course. I am interested in students who are interested in the deployment of logic in everyday life. This is NOT a law course or even a pre-law course.