Capturing the Dialectic between Principles and Cases

Jurimetrics, Vol. 44, p. 229, 2004

U. of Pittsburgh Legal Studies Research Paper

51 Pages Posted: 14 Apr 2022

See all articles by Kevin Ashley

Kevin Ashley

University of Pittsburgh - School of Law

Date Written: 2004

Abstract

Theorists in ethics and law posit a dialectical relationship between principles and cases; abstract principles both inform and are informed by the decisions of specific cases. Until recently, however, it has not been possible to investigate or confirm this relationship empirically. This work involves a systematic study of a set of ethics cases written by a professional association's board of ethical review. Like judges, the board explains its decisions in opinions. It applies normative standards, namely principles from a code of ethics, and cites past cases. We hypothesized that the board's explanations of its decisions elaborated upon the meaning and applicability of the abstract code principles and past cases. In effect, the board operationalizes the principles and cases. We hypothesized further that this operationalization could be captured computationally and used to improve automated information retrieval. A computer program was designed to retrieve from the on-line database those ethics code principles and past cases that are relevant to analyzing new problems. In an experiment, we used the computer program to test the hypotheses. The experiment demonstrated that the dialectical relationship between principles and cases exists and that the associated operationalization information improves the program's ability to assess which codes and cases are relevant to analyzing new problems. The results have significance both to the study of legal reasoning and improvement of legal information retrieval.

Keywords: legal reasoning, ethics, law and technology, case decisions, dialectical relationships, artificial intelligence, AI, legal information retrieval, legal analysis, assessment

Suggested Citation

Ashley, Kevin, Capturing the Dialectic between Principles and Cases (2004). Jurimetrics, Vol. 44, p. 229, 2004, U. of Pittsburgh Legal Studies Research Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4082458

Kevin Ashley (Contact Author)

University of Pittsburgh - School of Law ( email )

3900 Forbes Ave.
Pittsburgh, PA 15260
United States

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