Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 5.djvu/769

This page has been validated.


The Science of Law. By Sheldon Amos, M.A., Professor of Jurisprudence in University College, London. International Scientific Series, No. X. 417 pp. Price $1.50.

Prof. Amos has written a book which will prove peculiarly acceptable at the present time; for, although discussions in respect to the application of the scientific method to social affairs are becoming commonplace, there is, nevertheless, a profound interest in the general question, and there is certainly a strong desire to know what can be done by that method in a field which is at once so practical and so unpromising as that of law. Whatever may be said about it, it is an undeniable fact that science has effected a foothold and begun to make itself at home in social inquiries, and it is certain not to go backward in the future. Moreover, in no region of thought have greater changes already occurred in the modes of inquiry than in the study of society. The old conceptions of history as the exponent of social life and progress are declining, and in their place we see steadily growing the conception of society as a sphere of phenomena in definite relations, to be analyzed, described, and classified, in the same way as any other department of Nature. Facts are to be observed and generalized, uniformities traced, and inductions established, not exact, of course, as in the exact sciences, but with the utmost degree of accuracy that the case admits, until our knowledge of the subject shall be reduced to scientific order. The group of social phenomena that are termed legal affords no exception to this tendency. Jurisprudence, indeed, has not formerly been wanting in its scientific form; in fact, it could not be systematically dealt with at all without involving the rudiments of a scientific method; but later investigations have tended increasingly to show how arbitrary and insufficient these methods were. The work of Prof. Amos is at the same time a landmark of progress and a reƫxposition of legal facts and principles in the direction which is certain to be pursued in the future.

The two English writers, leaving out Bentham, whose labors have done most in developing the science of law, are Austin and Maine. Though both expositors of the same subject, they worked in entirely different ways. Austin, after describing the nature and province of law, examined and analyzed the fundamental conceptions which are common to all legal systems, and deduced from such analysis the principles of logical classification. In accepted language Austin occupied himself with the philosophy of law. On the other hand, Maine takes legal institutions as they are and have been, and traces them back to their earliest forms. He brings into full view the order of evolution and the influences which determined the course and progress of legal ideas. These two methods, the historical and analytical, are not opposed to each other as competitors, one of which must prevail. They really complement each other; the fruits of both are needed; they run into each other at every point. In our opinion, there is still another line of inquiry which must be taken up to complete the explanation of legal phenomena. Laws are made to effect definite purposes; they are the means by which certain actions and relations of mankind are regulated. Law-making is surrounded with the most difficult problems, and has for its only guide considerations educed from experience and the constitution of human nature and society. These purposes and, to a certain extent, these problems, the student of law must investigate; to stand outside, refusing to touch them, invites fatal criticism. We should say, then, that the scientific treatment of law includes the analysis and classification of legal conceptions; inquiry into the origin and evolution of legal institutions; and the theory of legislation. Prof. Amos adopts this view, and it colors every chapter of his work. He has dared to be comprehensive, and so has given us a treatise which will have a permanent value. Every department of law is explored in the directions indicated, and with all the fullness that can be expected in a popular book. The author travels over a wide field; and he is a guide that turns the attention of his readers to every part, pointing out the most important features with unusual skill and exactness.

Such being the general plan of the work,