Cognitive Jurisprudence – Article by Adam J. Hirsch

From Volume 76, Number 3 (March 2003)
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Our law has no mind of its own. In times past, we have fancied law a product of the Deity, and we are still apt to depict it as something transcendent, or even broodingly omnipresent, if not divine. Some of our lawmakers maintain a tradition of donning garments befitting oracles when they utter their pronouncements. Needless to say, the reality is that rules flow out of the pens of mortal persons beneath the impressive robes, persons who must bend their mental efforts to many complex problems and tasks, all competing for their attention.

Half a century ago, the late Herbert Simon developed the theory of “bounded rationality” in connection with human decisionmaking. His insight was that the cognitive resources (like other resources) of human beings are finite and, accordingly, must be rationed. Whether consciously or unconsciously, we all have to make hard choices about how to allocate our intellectual energies. We cope with cognitive deficits, Simon and his students elaborated, in a variety of ways—for example, by searching selectively through the exponential ramifications of our analysis; by settling on decisions that we find sufficiently good, even if not necessarily best; and by developing mental short-cuts (dubbed heuristics) to simplify cognitive tasks, thereby allowing us to arrive at decisions in a more frugal manner.


 

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