In his essay The Paths of Law Oliver Holmes tries to explain his understanding of jurisprudence and its main principles. In particular, he argues that the main purpose of this discipline is to predict legal outcomes or results of a person’s action.
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In his opinion, the study of law is not always related to the assessment of people’s moral behavior; more likely, its task is to foresee the forces of law and their effects on an individual and society. This argument gives rise to the question whether the study of law can be viewed as a science. This paper will determine if such interpretation is justifiable and applicable to modern standards of legal profession.
First, Oliver Holmes points out lawyers often adopt the methods of reasoning which are typical of sciences, for example, deduction, analogy, and discrimination. To some extent, they are more related to mathematics rather than philosophy or ethics. Therefore, it is possible to say that the study of law bears close resemblance to a science.
In his discussion, Oliver Holmes primarily focuses on public forces or the actions of the court rather than the ethical truths which underlie these public forces. Admittedly, while providing legal advice to a client, lawyers often pay more attention to the material interests of this person rather than ethical concerns.
This evidence also suggests that jurisprudence is oriented toward material or practical purposes instead of deeper understanding of moral truths. This feature makes the study of law similar to a science.
There is another important element of Holmes’s discussion. He believes that legal professionals, especially judges or legislators should focus more on social advantage.
Therefore, one of their tasks is to maximize the benefits of the community and individual. Judging from this claim, one can compare jurisprudence to such economics. Thus, if we adopt utilitarian perspective of Oliver Holmes, we can say that law can be considered as a science.
Nevertheless, Oliver Holmes admits that laws reflect moral development of a community or country. Therefore, it is quite possible that the study of law can evolve with time passing. It should be noted that this essay was written at the end of the nineteenth century, and since that time, jurisprudence has changed significantly.
Modern law students have to study various ethical theories which can explain the principles to which a lawyer should adhere to. Thus, the study of law has both scientific and ethical or philosophical components. This is the reason why the arguments expressed by Oliver Holmes cannot be fully accepted.
Purely scientific interpretation of the law can overlook the fact that legal acts are based on ethical principles and standards. Without understanding of these principles, lawyers as well as legislators will be unable to uphold the values of a society.
This discussion indicates that the study of law definitely relies on the methods and principles adopted by scientists. Their decision making and analysis of information can rely on deductive reasoning or analogy.
Moreover, they often try to maximize the social benefits that the community or individual will derive from public forces. Hence, it definitely has scientific component. Yet, jurisprudence is also of a study of moral truths and values that regulate the professional behavior of a lawyer and the actions of an individual. Thus, it can be regarded as a combination of ethics and science.