Establishing Relations Between Law and Other Forms of Thought and Language

21 Pages Posted: 11 Jun 2008 Last revised: 29 Oct 2012

See all articles by James Boyd White

James Boyd White

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor Law School


The law does not, and could not, exist in an intellectual or linguistic vacuum. No one believes that the law is or should be impervious to other languages, other bodies of knowledge. In this sense the argument about the 'autonomy' of law is an empty one: law cannot be, should not be, perfectly autonomous, unconnected with any other system of thought and expression; yet it plainly has it own identity as a discourse, it own intellectual and linguistic habits, which it is our task as lawyers to understand and develop. It follows that an essential topic of legal thought is the proper relation between law and other forms of thought and expression - a topic that is important, difficult and full of interest. In this paper, Professor White compares three ways in which the law is related to other fields: translation (as in the use of expert testimony), disciplinary imperialism (as in law and economics), and comparison of modes of thought and expression (as in law and literature).

Keywords: legal thought, law and literature, law and economics, language, linguistic, justice as translation, interdisciplinarity, psychiatric testimony

Suggested Citation

White, James Boyd, Establishing Relations Between Law and Other Forms of Thought and Language. Erasmus Law Review, Vol. 1, No. 3, 2008; U of Michigan Public Law Working Paper No. 113. Available at SSRN:

James Boyd White (Contact Author)

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor Law School ( email )

625 South State Street
332 Hutchins Hall
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1215
United States
734-936-2989 (Phone)

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