Document Type



Presented at the Pragmatism, Law and Governmentality conference held at Cornell Law School on March 28, 2003.


I have long held as an ideal the words of one of foremost American interpreters of John Dewey's philosophy: "An adequate, comprehensive political and social theory must be at once empirical, interpretive, and critical." How these styles of social inquiry, whose practitioners often seem at war, might cohere has never been completely clear. This essay is an attempt to work out in a very limited context some of the issues surrounding these relationships. In particular, I want to explore the relationship between the interpretive style, which I take to be central, and the other two. The focus of these remarks is my recent attempt to give a reasonably adequate account of an important institution, the American trial.

Is it possible to give the best interpretation of a social institution without an Archimedian point? I think the example of the trial and the continuity in the forms of interpretation between trials and accounts of trials suggests that there is.

Date of Authorship for this Version

March 2003


pragmatism, social science, trials

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