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‘A Time to Kill’ Closing Argument

Young Philosophers,


In the first lecture, the summary of which can be found here, Professor Ariew mentioned that in many a film’s closing argument one can find a young actor earning his keep.  Watch in this film, A Time to Kill, as Matthew McConaughey does just that.  As you watch the clip, think about how strong his argument is in terms of Logos.  What are his premises, and what is his conclusion, if he even has any?  In the comment section, tell us how strong his Logos element is, and what his strongest Ethos and Pathos elements are, and why!


  1. Jackson Hoffmann
    August 25, 2011 at 5:43 pm

    The story he tells towards the middle of the video definitely Pathos. That was so intense and elaborate and not to mention his delivery really puts a picture in your head the entire time. I haven’t seen this movie before though so I guess I don’t fully understand the context but that story brought up so many emotions that it must have swayed the jury so allow Samuel L Jackson to be innocent.

    I have ideas about ethos and logos but I’m struggling to find words for them

  2. Seth Kurtenbach
    August 25, 2011 at 7:31 pm

    Thanks, Jackson! Great comments about the Pathos element! You said that McConaughey’s emotional appeal must have swayed the jury; Do you think that his emotional appeal gave the jury a good reason to find Samuel L. Jackson innocent? I agree that it probably succeeded in swaying them, but the interesting question is, should it have?

  3. Jackson Hoffmann
    August 26, 2011 at 12:53 am

    I don’t know the context of the movie but I’m assuming Samuel L Jackson’s character was wrongly accused? Either way I don’t think the story should have swayed the jury. McConaughey didn’t really prove anything with his speech, he just told a story that was very emotional and won the jury over.

  4. Zak Haverly
    August 30, 2011 at 9:55 pm

    Jackson hit the nail on the head in describing the Pathos of the argument. The story about the young girl’s rape and beating was incredibly detailed and vivd, and the delivery was excellent (the choking up a nice touch, too). If there was any Logos in the closing argument, in was in the first couple of minutes when McConaughey was attempting to prove that the true pursuit of truth in court had been lost. Apparently, he had put a felon on the stand and the given testimony was probably stricken due to his status, but McConaughey argued that his status does not affect the truth of the felon’s statement. McConaughey then made the argument that because the law is seen through human eyes, and humans are not equal through the eyes of the law, nobody is equal through the eyes of the law. However, in the end, his use of Logos towards the beginning of his speech was for the purpose of making the jury feel guilty, in order to pound his story home.

  5. Abbagail Pastore
    August 31, 2011 at 6:51 pm

    After discussing this clip in Seth’s lab on Monday, and then watching it for myself, I think that although Pathos should not be used as a closing tactic for every case that goes to trial, in the context of this case in the movie, the use of Pathos is probably the only way for McConaughey to persuade this jury. Without the use of Pathos appealing to the emotions of these jurors and causing them to feel the same kind of anger and need for revenge as Jackson, they would have made a decision based only on their own personal racism and hate. One thing McConaughey acknowledged that stood out to me was that as humans it is impossible to have a perfect system in which personal judgement does not take president. I feel that his saying this set the stage for these people to open their minds and really image the story of this young girls rape as McConaughey describes it. Out of all the movies I have seen involving trials this is the most graphic and persuasive closing argument I have ever seen, and it made me want to watch the whole movie.

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