Larry Solum on Interdisciplinary Ignorance
Larry Solum (law, Illinois) has a terrific post about interdisciplinary work in law. Unlike the typical simplistic calls for more PhDs in law, Solum’s post delves into the issue of interdisciplinary knowledge in a much deeper way. He argues that legal academics need at least basic competence in normative legal theory, law and economics, empirical legal methods, positive political theory and attitudinalism, and social science and history. He notes that merely having a PhD is unlikely to bring knowledge of this diverse array of fields. Moreover, Solum says, “[i]nterdisciplinary ignorance is a two way street.” Experts in other disciplines also struggle with being interdisciplinary. He concludes: “As a consequence, the legal academy continues to reinforce interdisciplinary ignorance. As a profession, we are failing badly in the training of future legal academics.”
I generally agree with Solum’s post, but I think that one of the difficulties today is that there is so much to know about so many things that it is hard to be the “renaissance” generalist. That said, however, there are wonderful virtues in being a generalist, in being able to combine insights from different fields which are becoming increasingly fractured and insular.
A quick band-aid to the problem is for organize a conference designed as an intensive week-long continuing legal education “seminar,” with each day consisting of training in a given interdisciplinary field. At best, however, there are not enough hours in the day for law professors to gain cutting-edge expertise in such a wide array of fields. Law professors might be able to gain competence in other disciplines, but deep expertise is difficult in multiple disciplines. Maybe the academic of the future will have the assistance of a computer chip integrated into his or her brain, but it will probably take some kind of development like that to allow generalists to be experts in multiple domains. Until that time, however, we’ll probably have to settle for being generalists with only a very basic understanding of other fields. But Solum is right that we can certainly do better.