Where is the Field? Are We at a Flexion Point?

Posted: 16 May 2010

Date Written: May 14, 2010


For more than two decades, a growing group of academics and practitioners from a number of disciplines have persisted in bringing the insights of neuroscience and evolutionary and behavioral biology to the study of law, economics, and related fields. The Gruter Institute has been a prime mover in this process, and its annual meeting at Squaw Valley a crucial point for learning and planning. The generous and persistent support of the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation has been crucial as well, as have SEAL and many individual efforts and smaller scale institutional commitments.

In the early days of this process there was something of a pioneer spirit among the band or explorers, along with the knowledge that much of the world thought we were a bit crazy (and that was the kind end of the critique). Things have come a long way. In the past few years, law and neuroscience has become a burgeoning field, in part thanks to the MacArthur Foundation grant, but also simply because its intellectual time has come. Behavioral and evolutionary biology is also a recognized and largely accepted mode of analysis for human study, and for application in legal scholarship. It isn’t that everyone agrees with this kind of approach or its conclusions – there are those who strongly disagree with the approaches and conclusions of law and economics. But, like law and economics, law, brain and behavior is an approach to scholarship in the law and related fields that cannot be denied its place at the academic table.

Here’s one data point – this spring the Gruter Institute and the MacArthur project helped to sponsor a two-day event organized at the Harvard Law School by its Petrie Flom Center entitled “Moral Biology?” Scientists, economists, lawyers, and even philosophers came together for a very productive give and take on problems including cooperation, responsibility, addiction, racism, and punishment, with the overall question being how biology and mind science can help us better understand these difficult issues. It was like Squaw Valley meets the Charles River. The discipline has arrived.

And this arrival puts us at a “flexion point,” a kind of scholarly hinge, and one of our jobs as the curators of this discipline is to reflect on what that means. Here are some thoughts and questions from me, meant to spark further thoughts from all in attendance.

- There will be an increasing generational shift to scholars who have recently come to the academy - The needs of cross-disciplinary expertise, and credentialing, will increase – the age of the amateur is ending - As these ideas go mainstream in disciplines like psychology, anthropology, and philosophy, the number of disciplines represented in our interdisciplinary stew will increase - There will be increased attention to tackling specific legal and societal challenges and to proposing courses of action - The emphasis on finding solutions that work with human nature will increase - The emphasis on the is/ought divide will diminish - The role of strategic modeling and institutional design will increase, as will the search within complexity studies, information theory, thermodynamics and other disciplines for models of behavior, predation, collaboration, development and growth: evolutionary processes are still under-described, and the next Darwinian insight awaits - There are increased opportunities and needs to target publishing, placement, and other steps to consolidate and spread the gains within academia - There will be an increased need for quality popularizing – our own Matt Ridley - As all this goes forward, where do the pioneers and explorers go?

Suggested Citation

Goodenough, Oliver R., Where is the Field? Are We at a Flexion Point? (May 14, 2010). Gruter Institute Squaw Valley Conference 2010: Law, Institutions & Human Behavior, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1608126

Oliver R. Goodenough (Contact Author)

Vermont Law School ( email )

164 Chelsea Street
P.O. Box 96
South Royalton, VT 05068
United States
802 831 1231 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.vermontlaw.edu/Our_Faculty/Faculty_Directory/Oliver_R_Goodenough.htm

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