Modernism

Modern legal theorists believe that they can discover the "right answers" or "correct interpretation" by applying a distinctive legal method based on deduction, analogy, precedent, interpretation, social policy, institutional analysis, history, sociology, economics, and scientific method. … Legal moderns … express the intellectual and artistic quest for perfection through the process of uncovering and unmasking the secrets of the world by transcending contexts that limit human understanding. … Legal modernism also … is based on an understanding of language that assumes that words and conceptual ideas are capable of objectively capturing the meaning of events the law seeks to describe and control. (Minda, 1995:5-6)

To Plato the nature and intelligibility of the world of appearance could be accounted for only by recognizing it as an "image" of the truly intelligible structure of being itself. These "forms" are the essence of being in the world, although we experience only images or imperfect instances of this or that. He likened our condition to that of dwellers in a cave, who see shadows on cave walls but not the objects that cast them. The struggle, by means of logic and the scientific method, to infer the universe's "true" forms and to explicate their invariant relationships to experience characterizes what we may call the modern approach.

Modernism in physics, for example, can be illustrated by the prevailing belief, up through the beginning of the twentieth century, that objects exist in a fixed Euclidean space and interact in strict accordance with Newton's laws. Measurement was a matter of characterizing properties of objects such as their mass and velocity—with uncertainty to be sure but only from the imperfections of our measuring devices. The variables were the universe's; the distance between our knowledge and the truth was quantified by a standard error of measurement and shrank toward zero as we fine-tuned our models and improved our instruments.

In law the essence of modernism is the idea that "there is a 'real' world of legal system 'out there,' perfected, formed, complete and coherent, waiting to be discovered by theory" (Minda, 1995:224). The source was debated, to be sure: Dean Christopher Columbus Langdell (in 1871) maintained that careful study of cases should reveal the underlying axioms of justice, from which "the law" in its entirety follows logically. Oliver Wendell Holmes argued pragmatically that "law and its institutions evolved from views of public policy, social context, history, and experience" (Minda, 1995:18) and that its application always relies on judgments about its role in society.

In educational and psychological testing, modernism corresponds to the pursuit of models and methods that characterize people through common variables, as evidenced by common observations—under the conceit that there are objectively correct ways of doing so. The source of these models and variables has been debated over the years along logical versus pragmatic lines analogous to the Langdell versus Holmes stances. Witness on the one hand, factor analytic research



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