16 July 2013

Conclusions Begin Our Reasoning Rather than End It (Oliver Wendell Holmes Explains George Zimmerman's Acquittal A Century Before it Happens)

Oliver Wendell Holmes, co-founder of Pragmatism and appointed by Teddy Roosevelt to the Supreme Court, would have probably been unsurprised that a jury acquitted George Zimmerman. Here are a few paragraphs taken whole from The Fourth Economy.

In a perfect world, voters and pundits alike would consider the facts before judging policy and politicians. In that same world, judges and juries would consider the facts before reaching a verdict.
As befits a pragmatist, it was the real world rather than the perfect one that Oliver Wendell Holmes examined. He argued that judges did not reason their way to conclusions by careful consideration of the facts. Instead, judges and juries had conclusions for which they then developed and offered a rationale. It is terribly difficult to objectively sift through facts and evidence and then piece that together into a conclusion. Easier to reach a conclusion and then look for evidence to support it. Holmes aligned with what psychology then and cognitive science now seems to suggest: the unconscious or subconscious mind does much to dictate the direction of consciousness. We are not so much rational as rationalizing. While argument for a belief might be clear, reasons for such a belief are less clear.
Holmes was disdainful of the idea of the law as something that followed from constitutional proofs in the same unerring manner as equations followed from mathematical proofs and his relative, pragmatic approach did more to define law through the third economy than did Enlightenment thinking. Conservatives may prefer to avoid the legal complexity that comes from acknowledging the nuance and context of specific cases, but universal laws like “Thou shalt not kill” quickly break down in a world where people argue about whether the definition of killing should include self-defense, warfare, abortion, capital punishment, or turning animals into meat.

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