Article Title

Empathy and Judgment


Thomas Morawetz


Martha C. Nussbaum, Poetic Justice: The Literary Imagination and Public Life. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996. Pp. xvii, 137. $20.

Reclaiming the place of philosophy as a metadiscipline, philosophers have once more assumed the role of mediating boundary disputes among other disciplines. As the boundaries and shapes of various disciplines have grown vague and controversial, that role has become particularly significant and particularly quixotic as well. Those who play this role have many audiences. Some speak primarily to, and about, scholars. Others concern themselves with pedagogy. Still others think about the impact of the disciplines on public officials and public affairs.

The relationship of law and literature is an especially fruitful interface for such scrutiny. Although courses on law and literature have proliferated in law schools, accompanied by a bull market in interdisciplinary articles, books, and journals, there is little agreement about the content and purpose of these activities. Indeed, there seem to be almost as many ways of giving content to law and literature as there are practitioners of it. This intersection of disciplines may variously become:

(a) law in literature (the depiction of lawyers, judges, and legal practices in fiction), or

(b) law as literature (the application of theories and techniques of understanding, borrowed from literary criticism, to legal texts and activities), or

(c) the law of literature (consideration of the legal norms that shape and limit literary activity and attitudes), or

(d) law as influenced by literature (examination of the role of literature in affecting legislation, judicial practice, political attitudes, and so on).

This list is only suggestive. Categories may be added to it, and these four categories themselves accommodate indefinitely many agendas and preoccupations.