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Book Chapter

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One of the striking developments in academic law in the past half century is the reconception of law as one of the social sciences. The idea at work in this movement, as Joseph Vining says in this essay, is not that the law should use the findings of other disciplines for its own purposes and in its own way, but that in some deep way law itself - legal thinking, legal life - can and ought to proceed on the premises of social science, indeed of science itself. This is in one sense obviously impossible: a scientific rule is a prediction of future events based upon prior experience; a legal rule is the expression of a mind speaking to other minds - to other persons - seeking to affect their behavior by shaping their sense of the meaning as well as the consequences of what they do. Law works by an appeal from mind to mind. Yet in academic law, as in the culture more generally, the image of science as the paradigm of thought, including legal thought, has enormous presence and force. The inherent dehumanization of this kind of thought - the erasure of the human person, the voice, the mind, the elimination of human value and hope - threatens both law and democracy at their core. Vining's deep claim is that even in the face of these forces of dehumanization and trivialization law retains a life and vigor, a resilience, upon which we can found our hopes and seek to build.