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Why the Law is So Perverse

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Why is the law so perverse?

Because so many lawyers are perverts, of course.

Okay, so maybe that's not quite the case. There is an abundance of perverted lawyers, but that's not what Leo Katz (Penn) is getting at in Why the Law is So Perverse. For those of you in need of a vocabulary lesson, you should be reading 'perverse' as 'counter-intuitive, contradictory, and a bit screwy.' But, Why the Law is So Stupid at Times doesn't have the same ring to it, and doesn't feel quite so professorial.

Perverse delves in to the philosophical ideas at the heart of law and social policy issues. Not loosey goosey continental philosophy, but real philosophy, the analytical stuff. Here's an example. It's not an exact example from the book, because I can't quite remember the details Katz used, and the book is in my car right now, and it's really cold out. But, it's close enough:

A, B, C, D, and E want to order a pizza.

A and B want pepperoni and not sausage.

C wants sausage and not pepperoni.

D and E want neither pepperoni nor sausage.

What goes in the pie?

If we vote on pepperoni, it's 2 aye, 3 nay, no pepperoni. Vote on sausage is 1 aye, 4 nay, no sausage. Cheese pie is the result.

If we vote on whether there should be a meat, we get 3 aye, 2 nay, and then ask what the most popular meat is, and end up with a pepperoni pizza, something the majority opposes.

We could also ask if we want a plain cheese pie, and get 2 aye, 3 nay, revealing that the cheese pie is also something the majority opposes. ...Frack.

Now, of course in real life, you can get half toppings, and one pizza isn't enough for 5 people anyways. But, also in real life, you can have a case come before the Supreme Court with three justices saying "Liable for reason X, but not for reason Y," three saying "Liable for reason Y, but not for reason X," and the remaining three saying "Not liable under either theory."

Well, what the heck happens then? If we do a straight up or down vote, we get 6 saying you're liable. But, if we break apart the theories, on any one question we get 6 saying you're not liable. ...Double frack.

So, that's basically a taste of what you'll get from Why the Law is so Perverse, though the book dives in to a wide variety of topics, such as corporal punishment, cap and trade emissions regulations, why guilty and not-guilty are the only options in a trial, and how hierarchies of rights and privileges work. The book is also way more dense than the above. But, it's dense in a good way, actually picking out the tiny little pieces of each issue, not dense to obfuscate the issues and rack up a bigger page count.

I've been to my share of law school lectures, and read my share of philosophy of law, and this is easily in the top tier when it comes to the level of intelligence and interestingness. Wait until you're out of law school to read it though. Then, when you're at a dinner party with people who fancy themselves to be government and policy wonks, run intellectual circles around them and make off with the wine while they're all in a daze. If you read it while you're in law school, you're just going to spend the rest of your time staring at your professors and thinking "these guys are freaking idiots" and "I want a refund."

[Why the Law is So Perverse on Amazon]


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