Friday, May 03, 2013
Comparing law and science
I have been studying this article titled "The Law of Physics & the Physics of Laws," by Judge Kelsey, published in 2012 in the Regent University Law Review, in which he endeavors to "rake through the ashes of science (as well as some of its hot coals)" in the pursuit of "symmetries that reinforce our understanding of the law." In the first section, titled "An Underlying Order," he points to the historical view of common law scholars that the law like sciences derived from universal truths, that were capable of being discovered incrementally through the process of deciding individual cases. It brings to mind the concept from Revolutionary times, that all men "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights," that were natural laws that preceded the institutions of the legislatures and the courts. It also makes me think of the dismissal by Justice Holmes and other "legal realists" of the validity of the quest for natural law. The second section makes interesting comparisons between the physical laws of inertia and the doctrine of stare decisis, and also between Newton's law of motion and the adversary system. He suggests that judicial precedents have "mass," that consist of "the strength of judicial consensus on the truth of the precedent and the longevity of its journey over time," that must be overcome for the law to change, and that absent sufficient force for change to overcome this mass, the precedents will "simply move from age to age along their original trajectories." He also suggests that the adversary system in its reliance on the concept that "truth can best be found in the competing contest between opposing forces" corresponds with the Newtonian concept that "all forces in come in pairs." The third section compares the difficulty of categorizing and determining the truth, in law and in science. He compares the difficulty of scientists in characterizing the nature of light with the challenge for lawyers of drawing the line between law and equity - a task which continues into the modern age, for example, where there is an issue of the right to a jury trial. He concludes with the problem of "doubt," in science and the law, which seems to me the most interesting of these several points - how do we overcome the problem of knowing what is true, when the quest for truth itself may obscure the truth? The priority of the opposing parties is to win the case, with the result that " lawyers and jurists alike have known for centuries that irrefutable truth is almost always, if not invariably, garbled by the exercise of discovering it." This article seems like the introduction to a seminar on the philosophy or history of law, the sort of class that I signed up for whenever I could, back in the day, when I had professors like John Simmons and Charles McCurdy.
Posted by Steve Minor at 11:48 AM