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American Bar Foundation
Critical Empiricism: [Comment]Author(s): William C. WhitfordSource:
Law & Social Inquiry,
Vol. 14, No. 1 (Winter, 1989), pp. 61-67Published by:
on behalf of the
Stable URL:
Accessed: 08/12/2010 20:23
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REVIEWSYMPOSIUMCOMMENT
CriticalEmpiricism
WilliamC. WhitfordLearningand ValuesTheres afundamentalaradoxorresearchhatistraditionallye-scribeds"empirical."he ostensibleurposef thisresearchstolearnsomething yobservation.Yet,as Trubek nd Essermphasize,bserva-tion cannotbeobjectiver valuefree. Thereare two relatedproblemsthat renderallobservationnherentlyalue aden.Descriptionf the socialworldrequireshat wegroupdiscretephe-nomena ntocategorieshatwebelieve,r aretrained obelieve,describesignificantocialhappenings.nouranguageedescribehesecategorieswithasingleword,and cometo thinkofthemas asinglephenomenon,ratherhan thegroupingfdiscretephenomenahat could have beengroupedn someotherway.Thus,we talkofdisputes,ndwe aretrainedto think ofamaritalpatandresistanceyanenterpriseoanenviron-mentalprotectiongency'srderas relatedocialphenomena.Butwedonot think of thequestionwhethervanLendlorMatsWilanders theworld'sest ennisplayersrelated,ecausewearenottrainedodescribethisas a"dispute."Consistently,heprocessywhich he latterquestiongetsresolvedwe calla"game"ather han"disputes rocessing."Thecategoriese usetodaywerecreatedyourforebears,ndtheycommonlyreflectpreferencesbouthowsocietyhouldbeorganizedhatwerewidelyshared ntheculturenwhichheywerecreated.InTrubekandEsser'sterminology,hecategoriesfsocialbehavior nusetodaynempiricalresearch reat leastpartlyaproductofideologieshat havebeendomi-nantinrelevantopulation ubgroups.'
William C.Whitford isGeorgeH.Young-BascomProfessorfLawattheUniversityofWisconsin-Madison.LL.B.1964,YaleUniversity.1.For a fullerdescriptionof what Ihave elsewherecalled theproblemofconceptual-ism,seeWhitford,"LoweredHorizons:ImplementationResearchnaPost-CLSWorld,"1986 Wis.LRev.755,767-72.Theargumentdevelopater ojustifyheutilityofobserva-tion isarefinementof anargumentirststated inthatearlierarticle. Idat769.©1989AmericanBar Foundation61
 
62LAWANDSOCIALINQUIRY
Arelatedproblemhas come to be called theproblemofagency,which ismuchemphasizedn the Trubek andEsseressay,where it be-comesthe basisof theirprincipalcriticismofthe work ofthe Amherstgroup.Eventhoughourthoughtisto asignificantextentimprisonedbythe set of socialcategorieswe haveinherited,weretain thecapacitytoimaginenewgroupingsof socialphenomena.Hence,we retain thecapac-itytorejecttraditionalunderstandingsaboutwho benefitsfrom our ex-istingsocial order and about thepotentialitiesandmeans ofchanginghatorder.2 But thesenewunderstandings, cquiredhrough imaginationandthrough perception,areinpartafunctionof the valuesand desiresoftheperson imaginingand/orperceivingi.e.,theagent).Existingsocialprac-tices reflect anacceptanceof the idea that individualvaluesanddesirescanpartlydetermineheunderstandingshatperson acquires hroughim-aginationandperception.Thus,insportingevents,as inlegaltrials,weseek officialswho do notidentify emotionallywith eithercontestant,inpartbecausewe fearconsciouslybiasedjudgment,butalsobecauseweun-derstandthatperceptions affectedbyemotional attachment.3Insum,allobservations value laden for twoverydifferentreasons.Onereason concerns thevalue-ladenharacterof theconcepts,andulti-matelyalllanguage,hat weuseto describethe socialorder,and is muchemphasizedbythe structuralisthilosophicalradition.Theother reasonstresses theimpossibilityoffully separatingdescriptionfromevaluation,andultimatelycomes from ourunderstandingof the self.Together,asTrubekand Esseremphasize,hese sourcesofnonobjectivityreenoughtoinvalidatewhattheycall"uniformscientism"-theidea soprevalentinrecent Westernculture hatthroughuse of the"scientificmethod"we canlearn truths about the nature of humansociety.Interestingly,TrubekandEsser'sessaydoes not takewhatmightseemtomanyreaders o be the nextlogical step: advocatingabandonmentofobservationasaresearchstrategyntheface of itsinherentlyvalue-ladencharacter. What reason do we have tobelieve thatthroughobservationwecanlearnanythingthat cannot belearned fromanalysisof thevaluescontainedinthelanguageandconceptswe haveinheritedand of our ownpersonalgoalsand desires?4 t seems clear that Trubekand Esserbelieve
2.ThesecapacitiesaremuchemphasizedbyCoombe inanessaynthis issueand arethe sourcesof what shetherecallssubjectivity.3.Agraphic,andtragic,recentexampleofthiscommonunderstandingstheofficialexplanationgivenfortheshootingdownof an IranianpassengerairlinerbyanAmericanwarshipn thePersianGulf.Thatexplanationattributed hetragedyo amisreadingofimageson aradarcreenbyAmericanservicemennbattle for the firsttime andbiasedbythe emotions of thatcircumstanceointerpretheimagesassuggestinganattackon theirshipthat wasinfact notoccurring.4.Thoughnever withquitethespecificitytatedinthetext,therearecritiquesoftheLaw &SocietymovementbyotherCriticalLegalScholarsthat come close toquestioningtheabilityofempiricalesearchoteachanythingnotlearnablenotherways.SeeKelman,

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