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MetaLawEcon: Lawyers, economists, and philosophers on legal research

Mark D. White

Thanks to Google Alerts (and a generous citation of my edited law and economics book), I found this blog post from the European Association of Law & Economics regarding a recent workshop on "meta law and economics" (or MetaLawEcon):

MetaLawEcon: a TILEC workshop on the foundations of law and economics (Friday, 26 Nov 2010, Tilburg University, The Netherlands)

Organizer: Péter Cserne (

When a discipline grows and gets well-established, many researchers tend to think that its foundational problems have been solved. This misperception is related to the fact that researchers often do not bother themselves with meta-level problems of their scholarship. For good or bad, they “just do it”, without much reflection on what they are doing. Although methodological self-reflection in not a panacea and rarely a full-time job, time to time it is useful to look at one’s work in a more abstract way.

Law and economics scholars are no exception. Fifty years after Coase’s The problem of social cost, law and economics seems to have become the lingua franca of US legal scholarship. Compared to the 1970s and 1980s, the discipline has become more pluralistic in its methods, more self-critical about its normative assumptions, assertions and ambitions, and it is increasingly popular in Europe (and elsewhere in the world). Still, there are significant misunderstandings standing in the way of the reception of economic insights in European legal academia. It is often suggested that this is related to the unresolved foundational problems of the discipline. Certainly, the meta-level discussion has been going on in many ways: Kaplow and Shavell’s Fairness v Welfare (2002) has provoked dozens of critical reviews, symposia are held (e.g. “Law and Economics and Legal Scholarship”, Chicago-Kent Law Review 79 (2004)), PhD theses written (e.g. by Gerrit de Geest, Horst Eidenmüller, Anne van Aaken, Klaus Mathis), collective volumes published, e.g. The Theoretical Foundations of Law and Economics, ed. Mark D. White (Cambridge 2008), Foundations of Law and Economics ed. Cooter and Parisi (Elgar 2009).

The interdisciplinary character of law and economics research raises further questions about the possibilities and limits of intellectual integration. While economists are more or less aware of the foundational problems of economic theory, they are rarely confronted with jurisprudential concerns. Lawyers who are working on doctrinal or policy problems are often confused about what to expect from economics. Finally, jurisprudential critiques of law and economics often have a straw man as their target.

These considerations inspired the Tilburg Law and Economics Centre (TILEC) at Tilburg University, the Netherlands to organise a workshop on the foundations of law and economics. Economists, legal scholars and philosophers from numerous European countries attended the workshop, amongst them a large number of students of the Erasmus Programme in Law and Economics. The keynote speaker was Professor Lewis A. Kornhauser from New York University. A leading scholar in law and economics who has published path breaking papers in many legal areas and also plays an important role in the dialogue between law and economics, legal and political philosophy, and legal theory.

Please follow the link above for more information, and contact Peter Cserne at if you're interested in MetaLawEcon (I know I will!).


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