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Mechanical Jurisprudence

Mechanical Jurisprudence

Roscoe Pound, 1908

ROSCOE POUND followed in Oliver Wendell Holmes's footsteps. In "Mechanical Jurisprudence" (1908), Pound coined the term mechanical jurisprudence to refer to the common but odious practice whereby judges woodenly applied previous precedents to the facts of cases without regard to the consequences. For Pound, the logic of previous precedents alone would not solve jurisprudential problems. The essay decries the ossification of legal concepts into self-evident truths.

In opposition to mechanical jurisprudence, Pound offered his theory of sociological jurisprudence. He acknowledged that the common law contains some constant principles, particularly in regard to methods. He gave these principles the name "taught legal tradition." Pound believed that the implementation of this taught legal tradition by wise common-law judges resulted in substantive change, which reflected changes in society. As the interpreters of the common law, judges had a special duty to consider the practical effects of their decisions and to strive to ensure that they facilitated rather than hindered societal growth.

Source: Reprinted from 8 Columbia Law Review 605.

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