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The Messiness of Science

I’m back from the great College Tour of 2005. More on that later. Meanwhile:

Over at Letters of Marque, the wise Heidi differs with some of what I wrote about science and literature as ways of knowing the world — and the legal world in particular.

If all incoming scientists-about-to-become-lawyers were as well-trained and thoughtful about high-level science as Heidi is, then my job as a teacher would be far, far easier. But they are not, at least not in my experience teaching law students and supervising new lawyers over what’s coming up on the last 20 years. My post was pretty clear about this: This has to do with students who prep on “ordinary” science and engineering, not the more advanced (and accurate) view of science that she describes. I’ve met dozens of incoming students in this boat, desperately looking for a degree or type of order in the law that (as they eventually learn) does not exist. These students are far more likely than not to have trained in some science or engineering discipline.

Something very similar may be said of humanities-majors-about-to-become-lawyers; I don’t want to pick on scientists. A humanities background is extremely useful in appreciating the inherent messiness of the world, despite its apparent order. But seeking or finding or appreciating order in the law is an essential step in understanding how to learn and use it, and basic training levent escort bayan in the humanities, which may not reach so far as to teach how to locate order in that messiness, will leave the incoming law student without a set of important tools. Maybe Heidi reads me as discouraging the search for order in the law. But that’s not my view.

Have I stereotyped science by associating it with the desire to locate order in an inherently messy world? Sure. Have I stereotyped the humanities by associating them with the desire to wallow in that messiness? Sure. Do the stereotypes advance the point that I was trying to make — that there are multiple analytic toolkits out there that new lawyers should learn to appreciate, and that those toolkits are generally associated with training in basic science and engineering, on the one hand, beylikdüzü escort bayan and in the humanities disciplines, on the other? I think that the science/humanities divide is an authentic one, and I think that the stereotypes serve my purpose. Heidi’s defense of science may be on the mark (marque?), but as to my argument as a whole, I’m unrepentant.

A different way to come at the same point is this: Is the scientific toolkit inherently superior to the literary toolkit in approaching learning, teaching, studying, and practicing law? Or is the literary toolkit inherently superior? In my view — and in my view, only — I think that neither is inherently superior to the other, which is the reason that I raised the topic in the first place. I write this as someone who spent relatively little time in college on either the sciences or the humanities and who gradually learned to appreciate both, while a lawyer and a law teacher. Both are important. (Others are important, too; I’m not trying to condense the world of knowing into these two categories. But I’m trying to speak to the “generic” new lawyer, not to the relatively small number of grad students, Ph.D.s, and faculty in other disciplines who decide to attend law school.) Can either one be mastered in an eight-week summer prior to law school? Of course not. The same thing applies to law school: It takes more than three years to master legal analysis — and that assumes that legal analysis, like any discipline, can be “mastered.” Science, literature, law — each one involves a lifetime of learning. I’ve suggested only that new law students with a background in one discipline begin to learn the tools of another. Not because they should discard the tools that they know already — to the contrary, as Heidi’s post points out, these tools can be immensely valuable. But because they will likely find, as their careers develop, that knowing in the law requires additional tools.

3 thoughts on “The Messiness of Science”

  1. “Superior” is the wrong word. But, speaking as a science-type who seriously thought about going into law a little while ago, I’d say law is fundamentally more about humanites than science (which is one reason I decided not pursue a law degree). I think you’re getting hung-up about identifying “order” with “science”. But the “order” in law is more about “dramatic logic” than mathematical logic. It’s the sort of order that makes a good screenplay or novel, the kind needed for a *literary* classic. But that’s not the same order in science, though there’s some similarity, and a science training might help in acquiring it. But, at the core, science is about what order exists even if people don’t believe it, and law is more about what people believe should be order, which is the key difference which makes it closer to literature.

  2. Seth is very, very right. However messy science is, at the end of the day your theories are trying to measure *something real*, something immutable. (There’s some wiggle room there, but that’s close enough to make the point). When a legal academic compares her theories to the case law, what (exactly) is she trying to measure? There’s no such thing as legal “truth”. There’s just the decision of the individual judge in the individual case.

    Science is fundamentally descriptive, law is fundamentally normative, and both disciplines overstep their bounds when they try to switch roles.

  3. Pingback: Letters of Marque

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