A full copy of this essay with all parts is available in the Social Sciences Research Network: SSRN .
Modern law school academics in the United States are dominated by two major schools of thought: law and economics; critical theory. The most recent popular version of the latter calls itself critical realism. Both schools are conditioned upon two dogmas they claim must be recognized by jurisprudence and policy decisions in law. In critical theory, its foundational dogma states there exists a fundamental empirical distinction between situational influences and individual influences. This dogma exists in law and economics by a multiple of names, all making the same fundamental distinction but in disguised form. For this school, situational influences are dogmatically defined as simply a set, sum, or collection of individual influences. Both schools of thought share another dogma: a belief that normative statements can be derived from empirical statements. Academics and their believers in both schools want to be anything, such as economists, psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists, physicists, and onward, anything but lawyers for whom they both exhibit nothing but contempt making me at least wonder why they went to law school in the first place though I suspect the answer is for the power. As a practicing attorney my whole career in law, I write this essay as a representative of a dying breed (perhaps justly so): trial work and the art of lawyering. Both dogmas and the contempt for the practice of law that goes with them are not only worthless to jurisprudence but the constant bickering over them and associated paper churning verbiage lacking substance pontificated by those who are the law’s teachers serve only to destroy the credibility of jurisprudence and its usefulness for maintaining and passing on to posterity a free, prosperous, and open society. These dogmas and their contempt for the practice of law prevent progress in jurisprudence from catching up and paralleling scientific learning, an update it desperately needs if it will ever be anything more than the under-laborer for the few who are or want power over the many.
I. INTRODUCTION / THE NATURE OF THE PROBLEM
As I will analyze next in this essay, even in the simplest of problems in jurisprudence such as the proverbial “gun-to-the-head” case examples, the dogmas at issue do nothing useful but serve only to blind the search for the forest by concentrating on the trees. I will concentrate my analysis of the first dogma in the form it exists as a foundation for the new fad of critical realism because this analysis once understood will easily translate into an analysis of the equivalent dogma in law and economics that has had much more time to hide itself in the trees. For this purpose, I will reference examples of the dogma at work in the law review article entitled “The Situation: An Introduction to the Situational Character, Critical Realism, Power Economics, and Deep Capture” by Professors Jon Hanson and David G. Yosifon as this article seems to be the first gospel and foundation gospel for the bible of critical realism. I will refer to it as the Situation.
Though nominally hidden, the second dogma is substantively and essentially the same for both critical legalism and law and economics thus the analysis will not need to be split.
The Situation article begins with, contains within it, and ends with pages of warning and advice on how the readers need to open their minds, contest their most “reassuring self-perceptions”, read “mindfully”, and avoid being hypocrites who attach to other persons ignorance of truth while ignoring their own ignorance. After which, the authors of the Situation routinely, constantly, repeatedly, and to all indications unknowingly proceed to violate all of this warning and advice. I do not want to repeat their lecturing and risk becoming a hypocrite myself but it is important to have some sense and analysis of the hypocrisy involved to get an appreciation of the harmful, blinding effect these dogmas have upon jurisprudence and lawyering, in fact, upon basic reasoning skills and rational argument.
The nature of the problem of these blinding effects on both the substance, essence, and credibility of jurisprudence are most evident when the critical realism authors of the Situation try to be physicists instead of lawyers at pages 155 – 56 by using a “thought experiment” involving plane travel and then at multiple pages beginning at page 206 where they pontificate about the Catholic Church’s initial rejection of the physics of Galileo as an example of “capture”.
The plane travel “thought experiment” depicts an airplane passenger getting up from his seat, traveling to the bathroom, and returning fifteen minutes later. The authors than ask you to “estimate the distance that the old man traveled between leaving and returning to his seat.” Now, if you are a reasonably prepared, reasonably educated trial attorney with some diversity in life experience, you would immediately note that this question at a minimum lacks a proper foundation, is misleading, misstates the facts, assumes facts not in evidence, and, even if these problems as to form are resolved, is a question that only would be relevant and have probative value for any reasonable inquiry into truth if asked of a qualified expert witness. However, the authors as law professors are not trying to be lawyers, they are trying to be physicists. As physicists, they answer, “If you are like most people … you estimated thirty feet. A more accurate estimate, however, would be roughly 1000 times greater than that — approximately 150 miles. In other words, most people see the man moving within the plane, but miss his situation, the plane itself. … Indeed, when one takes those additional situational forces [movement of the Earth, solar system, the galaxy, the universe] into account, the old man moved … something closer to 350,000 miles.” As a trial lawyer, my first instinctual response to this individual/situational distinction is, “how is a traveler walking on an airplane” any less “situational” than an “airplane flying on the earth”? I am getting ahead of myself. By admitting the question into the evidence considered in the Situation, the authors prove themselves unskilled trial lawyers; by allowing the answer in, they in addition prove themselves unskilled physicists even at an amateur or sophomoric level.
If my above lawyering objections were resolved and then only an expert witness physicist was allowed to answer the question, the first answer would probably be a question: “I cannot answer your question as posed, do you want me to use classical physics or modern relativity physics?” Since the Situation seems to love Galileo, to be consistent with that love, I answer “please use classical physics.” At which point, the answer would probably be another question: “what inertial reference frame do you want me to use?” To keep things simple, I would answer “use the plane”. To which the “truth” would be “approximately 30 feet”. If I had answered, “use the earth”; the “truth” would be “approximately 150 miles.” If we really wanted to challenge our “thought” instead of playing academic games, I should have answered his first question “please use modern relativity physics.” To which, the physicist would have responded with another question, “what coordinate system do you want me to use and from what coordinate do you want me to measure?” In response, if I had answered “from the coordinate of the traveler with his point and coordinate remaining the same in any coordinate system”, the “truth” would have been “zero distance traveled”. What would have been the physicist’s answer if I had asked the witness to use pure quantum physics without simplification for scale? Engage in a real thought experiment by finding this answer yourself, learn something, and thus do something the authors of the Situation for some reason could not be bothered or could not do.
If the plane travel “thought experiment” had been approached from a lawyering perspective, we would have had an actual thought and learning experience. Instead we got a differentiation between the “individual” situation of the traveler and the “situational” situation of the plane, earth, and so forth. A differentiation that no physicist would make because to science one inertial reference frame or coordinate system is as good as any other. Which one to use is relative to what they are trying to predict. So, again, “how is a traveler walking on an airplane” any less “situational” than an “airplane flying on the earth”? Is it simply because the authors of the Situation want it to be distinct in order to prove their argument that they are distinct? These questions are not considered in the “thought experiment”, apparently it is assumed that this distinction is either self-evident or accepted based on their authority — that is, the distinction is dogma.
The enormity of the blindness to reality, despite calling itself critical realism, involved from such dogma is more evident in the Situation’s dealing with the Catholic Church’s initial rejection of the physics of Galileo that goes on for pages of verbiage that says nothing.
So, how does the Situation cover Galileo? Do they act lawyerly and thus review, examine, and cross examine the best evidence: the hearing records, expert submissions, evidence, and documents of the inquisition of Galileo still available for review and much of it on the internet? Do they take evidence or testimony from historians, theologians, and physicists on the subject? No, apparently there is no need for that. After all, they are not just lawyers, they are historians, theologians, and physicists; so, they quote hearsay from other lawyers and tell us themselves what happened as self-evident truth. According to them, what happened is “capture.” The Catholic Church was one of the mighty powers of the 17th Century. Galileo, while a student and then a professor teacher at two Catholic universities was a free-thinking lover of truth with a new “true” idea of the nature of our solar system but this “individual” influence on society was powerless against the “situational” influence of the Catholic Church whose power allowed it to distort and twist the academic and scholarly experts of the times to its irrational purely religious view of the solar system. As a result of this alleged capture, the authors tell us, an innocent individual was wrongly persecuted and silenced by Pope Paul V and a Cardinal Bellarmine denying society the “truth”. According to the Situation, if not for this “capture” of the expert witnesses who testified and of the evidence presented at his inquisition, the experts would have supported Galileo and the truth would have been known earlier and without punishment of Galileo. According to the authors, this “answer is obvious.”
Whoa, a powerful concept this “capture” based on this distinction between individual and situational influences. Again, as a lawyer, my initial instinct is to ask how are Galileo’s teachings reached during years of study, examination, and teaching using the resources of two Catholic universities an example of “individual” influence whereas the Pope and Cardinal’s teachings reached as a result of years of study, examination, and teaching using the resources at Catholic universities “situational”? There may be a difference of degree, but how are they different in kind? Does this distinction mean the Divinity School and the Philosophy Department at Harvard are “situational” influences whereas the Law School and Economics Department at Harvard are “individual” influences? Has anyone told the theologians and philosophers at Harvard about their situational power over law and economics that I suggest would be a surprise to them? Is individual influence the egg and situational influence the chicken? If so, which set of teachings is the egg and which the chicken? Which influence came first, the egg or the chicken?
Perhaps it is just a question of power? In his time, Galileo as an individual obviously had less power in every respect than the institution of the Catholic Church, but this would not be true of the individual Charles VII, the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, nor of the Pope. If it is an issue of the degree of power controlled, then we should call it an issue of the degree of power. Galileo had little individual power because of his situation as a student and teacher, Charles VII and Pope Paul V had large individual power because of their situations as emperor and pope. We can describe both sets of power honestly and truly either as “situational” or as “individual” depending on the speaker’s intentions not upon any fundamental difference in the nature of “power” as that word is used in English neither in the circumstances of “capture” nor to the extent anyone advocates for its inclusion in jurisprudence. If “capture” means the Catholic Church was more powerful than Galileo, than should we just say so and get on with a Marxist analysis of law as simply a monopoly of violence and forget about the useless word “capture” based on the useless distinction between individual and situational influences whose use is dependent solely on the intent of the speakers not on the facts spoken about? The authors do not consider these questions. Again it is assumed the “answer is obvious” as either self-evident or based on their authority — that is, the distinction is dogma, the same as any dogma issued by the Catholic Church or any church.
Instead of being a historian, theologian, or physicist, let’s try to be lawyerly and engage in the critical thought and examination of the alleged “capture” of Galileo’s “truth” that would be required if it ever came up as an issue for trial. I should start by seeing what theologians say about it since it is a theological issue but I am practical enough to know that raising theology in an essay submission to the closed-minded culture of law school is a guarantee that it will be trashed. I actually hope and want someone to read this essay some day, so I will ignore theology.
What do historians tell us about the Galileo Inquisition? Historically, what happened is that Galileo while a student and then a professor at two Catholic universities developed a heliocentric theory of our solar system that he could not support at the time by any evidence because the necessary math and physics had not as yet been created and developed. The Church had a formal, open hearing on the matter in which Galileo was allowed to face and to respond to his accusers consisting of qualified, prominent, academic scientific authorities of the time who all disagreed with him and submitted argument and evidence to substantiate their disagreement. Based on such undisputed expert testimony and Galileo’s inability to respond with anything other than unsubstantiated theory, the inquisitor Cardinal Bellarmine after review of his conclusions by the Pope personally ordered Galileo “… to abandon completely… the opinion that the sun stands still at the center of the world and the earth moves” as a physical truth. However, the Church did allow him to discuss such theory as a mathematical and philosophic idea. Thus, as the necessary mathematical and physical theories developed, eventually the heliocentric theory became widely accepted as scientific “truth” at Catholic and all universities. From a lawyering perspective, this was not a bad adjudicatory process overall nor result. Much better than anyone would now get before being terminated, removed, or arrested in our supposedly more open-minded society if one even tried to open a discussion at one’s employment, in class, or in a public forum let along argue the politically incorrect stance on such topics as homosexuality, racism, sexism, or abortion.
How about the physics? It turns out that according to the modern general relativity physics of the last hundred years, the concept of an inertial reference frame that is necessary for either a heliocentric or geocentric model of the solar system does not exist. All we can do is establish coordinate systems for space-time in which the only requirement is that each point have a unique coordinate. So, according to modern physics, if we had a mind or computer sophisticated enough to deal with the enormous and convoluted mathematical complexities involved, we could choose and use a coordinate system with the revolving earth at the center and the sun revolving around it. Since real science accepts and practices Ockham’s Razor as heuristic technique for its conceptual choices, real physics chooses the sun as the center of its coordinate system thus greatly simplifying the math and achieving a much more pragmatic model.
So, let’s see what we have. A Cardinal Bellarmine condemning a person before him for ideas reached at one of the universities he supervises after a full evidentiary hearing and review that included expert witnesses to which the accused had a right to face and respond and to whom he did face and respond was persecution and “capture”. So, what is it when two secular legal scholars as representatives of one of the most powerful legal cultures in history use solely their chosen written hearsay with no opposition submitted from anyone to condemn the dead and an entire millennia old religious culture? Is this like super-persecution and super-capture? If Cardinal Bellarmine was a tool for situational influences trying to avoid the absolute truth that the earth revolves around the sun, are the two secular legal scholars who wrote the Situation tools for situational influences trying to avoid the truth that there is no absolute truth about what revolves around what in space-time?
Is the absolute truth that if modern jurisprudence wants to approach reasoning in the same way as science, it should also accept Ockham’s Razor as a heuristic technique and stop creating unnecessary dogma about distinctions and relationships such as “capture” simply to boast the egos of its academics and their worshipers who see in the law a means for power instead of controlling power but who do not want to call it power? It is with the hope that the answer to this last question is in the affirmative that I get into the body of this essay.