Quare? Argument in David Daube, after Karl Popper
Roman Legal Tradition, Vol. 2, pp. 27-58, 2004
32 Pages Posted: 20 Oct 2008
Date Written: June 1, 2004
David Daube (1909-1999) was one of the outstanding scholars of Roman law from the last century. His work continues to be read widely. The qualities that made him unique as a scholar are rarely discussed, and yet an understanding of these qualities allows us to distinguish two broad types of Roman law research. One type, common even to this day, is strongly doctrinal and inductive. It attempts to discover the rules, and describe the evolution of the law, strictly by reference to verifiable sources, taking those sources as small samples of a larger canvas. Daube, however, practiced an utterly different, non-inductive mode of research. By the raw exercise of his imagination, he sought to explain how individual texts, with their brevity, obfuscation, exaggeration, etc., came to be in the condition we find them. In each case his "proof" was not in the supposed "meaning" of the text, but rather in the close fit between the condition of the text and his hypothesized reasons for that condition.
Daube's method of reading texts follows closely -- though not deliberately -- Karl Popper's description of scientific enquiry. Popper argued strongly that science was non-inductive, and that the scientific observer began with a hypotheses (a generalisation, and perhaps a host of supposed facts), which he used to illuminate evidence, ultimately hoping to explain the causes of events, at best provisionally. Daube too, in a manner, sought to explain the "causes" for a text being in a certain condition.
Keywords: Karl Popper, David Daube, Roman law
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