Thursday, April 28, 2011

Detecting Doctrines: The Case Method and the Detective Story

Simon Stern has written an interesting article entitled Detecting Doctrines: The Case Method and the Detective Story in which he compares the detective story and legal reasoning.  You can find the article here.

Many scholars have compared legal judgments with detective stories, and have suggested that law professors should teach cases in a way that reflects the structure of detective fiction. This essay explores that analogy, arguing that detective fiction’s asserted concern with the logical analysis of clues helps to show why exponents of legal doctrine would look to this genre as a model. Detective stories changed in the late nineteenth century, for the first time organizing their narrative structure around the use of clues, and hence claiming to promote logical reasoning in a way that allowed the reader to compete with the detective in solving the mystery. This explanation echoes the rationales offered by the advocates of the case method when it was first being endorsed around the same time. Law teaching changed similarly, moving from the methods of lecture and memorization to an approach that required students to navigate a narrative medium (the case) and to discover its essential components on their own. These two developments, in literature and law, stem from a common source - the emergence of new scientific methods aimed at tracing visible effects back to their hidden causes, exemplified by Charles Lyell’s work in geology and Charles Darwin’s work in evolution. When the early advocates of the case method talked about legal science, they emphasized scientific values such as coherence, clarity, and consistency, but an equally important aspect of the enterprise received much less rhetorical emphasis - namely, the method itself, which reflected the forms of scientific inquiry exemplified by Lyell and Darwin.


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