Science, Math, and the Essence of All Things

Last week Thomas Jefferson had Professor James Hackney of Northeastern University School of Law as our last speaker in our colloquium series. His talk focused on his book, Under Cover of Science: American Legal-Economic Theory and the Quest for Objectivity (featured at this past year’s AALS conference) and about his next steps on this topic. The book traces the way that science lurks behind the law and how law and economics has used the appearance of a scientific approach to justify its claims on jurisprudence. As the book’s site puts it “Hackney demonstrates how legal-economic thought has been affected by the prevailing philosophical ideas about objectivity, which have in turn evolved in response to groundbreaking scientific discoveries.” Now Science News reports that the June issue of the European Mathematical Society Newsletter has a debate over whether “new mathematical truths discovered or invented?” (annoyingly, the link to the Newsletter does not have the recent issue available as yet)

According to ScienceNews, one of the participants, Rueben Hersh of the University of New Mexico, “rejects the Platonic view, arguing instead that mathematics is a product of human culture, not fundamentally different from other human creations like music or law or money.” So as Hackney’s work makes a case that law and economics is not as objective as it seems, this group of articles about math suggests that even the science (or here related math) that provides the cover Hackney describes, lacks the objectivity it claims. The recent work on governance by Robert Ahdieh, Orly Lobel, and Mike Madison among others may be a response to the idea that law is not so objective. Rather it may be that the law seeks objectivity but faces complex and less than ideal situations. Governance ideas may fill that gap. We shall see.

cross-posted at Concurring Opinions