Ronald Sokol: Three Fallacies about Law
I learned three things about law today from Ronald Sokol's article "Richard Dawkins' law delusion" (JoongAng Daily, January 8, 2016), namely, that most of us, and not just Dawkins, hold three major fallacies about law:
The first might be called the Crime Fallacy. As is true of many people, what first springs to Dawkins' mind when he thinks of law is criminal law. Criminal trials fill a large space in the public imagination, but - to borrow a metaphor from biology - they are but one cell of law's complex corpus. Most lawyers and judges never enter a criminal court.On the other hand, if Dawkins had undertaken a career in law, he might be writing this very article to disabuse the scientist Ronald Sokol of these three fallacies about law.
The second is the Guilt Fallacy. Dawkins is "deeply shocked" to discover that a person who committed an illegal act may be found not guilty[, but this] confuses "guilt," which is a legal concept, with the commission of a forbidden act. Whether one has committed an act is a question of fact. Whether one is "guilty" is a question of law. A person may have carried out an act, but quite rightly be found "not guilty" - just as he may be found "guilty," even though he did nothing . . . . [In this case, the term "guilt"] means that the state has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the accused committed the act. If the state cannot prove it beyond a reasonable doubt, the accused is "not guilty" - regardless of whether he or she really did commit the act . . . . The underlying premise . . . is straightforward: It is better to let 10 criminals go free than one innocent person be convicted. Centuries of legal history show that this system, though far from perfect, is the fairest that humans have been able to devise.
Dawkins' third and most fundamental fallacy is the delusion that law is about truth - "what really happened," as he puts it. Let us call this the Truth Fallacy. It is here that Dawkins goes furthest astray [because the] goal of law, unlike that of science, is not to determine truth; its primary aim is to minimize conflict. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis summed up this understanding as follows: "In most matters, it is more important that the applicable rule of law be settled than that it be settled right." Even a wrong or "unjust" decision can end a conflict . . . .
The cornerstone of law is social harmony, and its ultimate purpose can be defined as promoting social happiness, a higher standard than mere harmony. Dawkins found happiness in science; we are all the richer for his contribution. But, judging by his memoirs, we are equally fortunate that he did not pursue a career in law.
By the way, I'd always thought of the aim of law to be justice, so I'm struck by the aim of law being harmony, which calls up Korean ways of thinking about the importance of a harmonious society. Are we Westerners and Easterners not so different in thinking, after all?