Logic and Experience

September 11, 2012

“The Life of the law has not been logic. It has been experience.” Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

We took our project’s name from this very famous quote by one of the giants of American law.  Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (his father, OWH, Sr. was famous in his own right) was a Justice on the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts (that state’s highest court) and on the United States Supreme Court from 1902 to 1932. He also had a great mustache.

But what does the quote mean?  We talked to legal historian William LaPiana, a professor at New York Law School to help us explain.  His book, Logic & Experience, examined the legal thought of Holmes and his peers in the years around 1900.

“Society creates law and law has to respond to society. Not slavishly and it can always guide society and you have to make choices and in the end someone’s going to decide in our society, we hope in some sort of democratic, small “d” manner what’s good. But you have to choose. You have to choose and of course the most horrible, difficult thing is to take responsibility and choose. And that’s what law is all about.”

La Piana on Oliver Wendell Holmes (click for audio)