International Law in Black and White

21 Pages Posted: 6 Mar 2006 Last revised: 25 Aug 2009

See all articles by Daniel Bodansky

Daniel Bodansky

Arizona State University Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law

Date Written: 2006


Is the study of international law an art or a science? Can the role of international law be explained by general rules, with predictive value? Or does it require the exercise of judgment, in order to account for the richness and complexity of international life? Traditionally, international lawyers have gravitated to the latter view, analyzing issues in an essentially ad hoc and eclectic manner. In their controversial new book, The Limits of International Law, Jack Goldsmith and Eric Posner argue forcefully for a more scientific approach, relying on the methodology known as rational choice theory. The article examine the book's ambition to develop an overarching theory of international law, which reduces the role played by international law to a few simple explanatory models. In the end, Limits makes a convincing case that rational choice theory can help us better understand the development and effectiveness of international law. But the book provides no compelling reason why noninstrumental factors might not also play a role. It presents a flattened picture of the world, drained of texture and nuance and color. It illustrates that, to understand international law, we need not only science, but also art.

Keywords: international law, methodology, theory

JEL Classification: K33

Suggested Citation

Bodansky, Daniel, International Law in Black and White (2006). Georgia Journal of International and Comparative Law, Vol. 34, 2006, UGA Legal Studies Research Paper No. 06-005, Available at SSRN:

Daniel Bodansky (Contact Author)

Arizona State University Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law ( email )

111 E Taylor St
Phoenix, AZ 85004
United States

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