The Proliferation of Legal Truth

14 Pages Posted: 28 Feb 2003

Abstract

This essay describes an important aspect of law's power. Law has power not only because it sets prices and sanctions on behavior, but also because it shapes and colonizes human understanding. Through the creation of legal categories, distinctions, causes of action, institutions and devices, law is continuously proliferating legal truths into the world, making things true and false in the eyes of the law. This capacity to create truth and to make things real is the flip side of law's power. Law has power because it can make things true or false in ways that matter to us; conversely, law can make things true or false in ways that matter to us because it has power over us.

The proliferation of legal truth is important for three reasons. First, the proliferation of legal truth shapes, directs, and constrains how people live their lives. Second, the proliferation of legal truth colonizes human imagination, shaping people's beliefs and their understandings about social reality. Third, the proliferation of legal truth is important because truth in the eyes of the law is not the only truth, and the way the world looks to law is not the only reality. Law's power to enforce its vision of the world can clash and conflict with other practices of knowledge, like medicine or psychology, and with other forms of truth, like historical or scientific truth.

JEL Classification: K10

Suggested Citation

Balkin, Jack M., The Proliferation of Legal Truth. Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, 2003. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=383400 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.383400

Jack M. Balkin (Contact Author)

Yale University - Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States
203-432-1620 (Phone)

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