Tuesday, July 23, 2013

What I've Been Reading

I just finished Daniel Dennett's excellent Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking (Norton 2013). I've been a fan of Dennett's since I first read his Brainstorms (Bradford 1978) just before I started college (a long, long time ago). He's among the most brilliant, creative, and controversial, philosophers of the last half-century. His work reminds us that philosophy - particularly the philosophy of mind - continues to be highly relevant in today's world. His latest book displays Dennett's characteristic use of ingenious thought experiments (a.k.a., "intuition pumps"). He takes head-on the supporters of mind-body (and mind-brain) dualism, and (in my view at least) prevails comprehensively.

I'm in the midst of reading William Twining's Karl Llewellyn and the Realist Movement (Cambridge 2012), an excellent survey of the legal-realist literature and defense of Llewellyn's interdisciplinary approach to legal studies as found in his major works, including  The Bramble Bush (Oceana 1930), The Cheyenne Way (Oklahoma 1983), and The Common Law Tradition (Little, Brown 1960). As a sympathizer with legal realism and an interdisciplinary scholar myself, I view Llewellyn as a groundbreaking forerunner. Twining's book about him is very insightful.

I've just begun reading Akhil Amar's America's Unwritten Constitution (Basic Books 2012), which presents a neo-realist critique of the kind of facile, narrow textualism of certain jurists, which cannot possibly explain so much of well-settled and uncontroversial constitutional practice, including, for example, application of the First Amendment to prohibit executive-branch constraints on free speech, despite the fact that the plain text of the Amendment applies its stricture only to Congress. The book is chock-full of examples of (inevitable) implication of positive rights and duties, based not on the text of any particularly constitutional provision, but the overall structure and purpose of the constitution. Though Amar is certainly Liberal politically, this book is not so much a normative defense of Liberal constitutional interpretation as a positive defense of a more holistic approach to constitutional interpretation, which does not necessarily cut in favor of more progressive political values on every occasion.

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