Economic Man and Literary Woman: One Contrast

13 Pages Posted: 25 May 2011

See all articles by Robin L. West

Robin L. West

Georgetown University Law Center

Date Written: May 19, 2011


The law and literature movement has been with us long enough that it is now possible to speak seriously of a "literary analysis of law," just as it has become possible, and even standard, to speak of an "economic analysis of law." It is also standard, of course, to speak of that abstract character who has emerged from the economic analysis of law: "economic man." In these brief comments, I want to offer one contrast of the "economic man" that emerges from economic legal analysis with the "literary person" that is beginning to emerge from literary legal analysis. I will sometimes call the latter person, in the interest of rough justice and somewhat in the interest of accuracy, "literary woman." The "literary woman" posited by literary legal theorists is coming into her own, and she is at least beginning to operate as a check on the excesses of economic man run wild. I should add by way of caveat that these comments are intended to be programmatic and tentative. I am not suggesting, and do not believe, that the comparative vision of literary woman that contrasts with economic man and which I will describe in this essay is the only, or even the most, representative vision of humanity and human nature that has emerged from the law and literature movement. I do think, though, that it is a vision we ought to pursue. The idealized literary person, sometimes explicit, but most often implicit in much of our literary legal analysis, stands in sharp contrast to her closest interdisciplinary cousin, economic man. For that reason alone, the vision of human nature she represents has tremendous moral promise. We ought to begin to make good on it.

Keywords: law and economics, rational maximizers, literature, economic man, literary women

JEL Classification: K00, K10

Suggested Citation

West, Robin L., Economic Man and Literary Woman: One Contrast (May 19, 2011). Mercer Law Review, Vol. 39, p. 867, 1988, Georgetown Public Law Research Paper No. 11-52, Available at SSRN:

Robin L. West (Contact Author)

Georgetown University Law Center ( email )

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Washington, DC 20001
United States

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