Hollow Men: Law and the Declension of Belief

31 Pages Posted: 24 Feb 2005

Date Written: February 2005


If believing is central to what makes us persons, then how do we react when our core beliefs come under serious challenge? The "purest" responses are probably to engage in responsible apologetics, defending our beliefs against the challenges, or else adjustment or relinquishment of our beliefs in accordance with what we come to understand the truth to be. Often, however, we resort to less "pure" responses. We "bend the truth" or "fudge the facts" to deflect challenges to our beliefs. Or, in a response that entails more implicit philosophical sophistication, we deflate our very conceptions of truth and belief: in this case, this essay suggests, we may continue to affirm propositions even though we no longer fully and in good faith believe them.

This essay, presented as part of a lecture series on "Christian Contributions to Contemporary Jurisprudence," argues that this last "declensionist" response produces a kind of hollowness in our personhood. The essay then explores manifestations of such declensionist strategies in modern thinking about the nature of law. It concludes by sketching some possible alternatives that Christian legal thinkers might take in response to such declension.

Keywords: belief systems, apologetics, truth, contemporary jurisprudence, declensionist response, nature of law, Christian legal thinkers

JEL Classification: K00, K10

Suggested Citation

Smith, Steven Douglas, Hollow Men: Law and the Declension of Belief (February 2005). U San Diego Legal Studies Research Paper No. 06-03. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=672681 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.672681

Steven Douglas Smith (Contact Author)

University of San Diego School of Law ( email )

5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110-2492
United States
619-260-7969 (Phone)
619-260-2492 (Fax)

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