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Summary Article: Pound, Roscoe (1870–1964) from Encyclopedia of Law and Society

Roscoe Pound was the long-time dean of Harvard Law School (1916–1936), who brought an important movement in law called sociological jurisprudence to America. In a speech he delivered before the American Bar Association in 1906, Pound called for the reform and modernization of legal formalism, a doctrine he regarded as antiquated.

Pound learned German in his youth, earned a PhD in botany that involved reading the work of German scientists, and studied Roman law. Michael Hoeflich divides Pound’s scholarship into three areas. The first area was legal philosophy; he was especially interested in Rudolf von Jhering’s (1818–1892) jurisprudence of interests (Interessenjurisprudenz) and other civilian jurists’ writing about sociological jurisprudence. The second field involved the development of Roman law, its transformation into modern civil law systems, and its use for comparison. Finally, Pound wrote about the influence of Roman and civil law on U.S. law.

In Pound’s view, legal formalism’s overly scientific bent had transformed lawmaking and judicial decision making into an abstract and artificial enterprise. He noted that lawyers, in regarding science as something they pursued for its own sake, forgot the true purpose of law, which is to fulfill and safeguard society’s needs, wants, and interests. In addition, legal formalism’s rigid exposition of fixed rules prevented the law from adjusting itself to society’s changing conditions. As a result, Pound believed that law had become a static entity and lost its practical function in dealing with the realities of everyday life.

Pound noted optimistically that with the rise and growth of political science, economics, and sociology, the time was ripe for a new tendency in legal scholarship that would consider the relations of law to society. Pound called this tendency sociological jurisprudence. Pound’s jurisprudence was sociological because it treated law not as a conceptual and logical system of formal rules, but as an institution operating within a larger societal context that regulates social processes with the objective of securing and protecting society’s interests.

Pound’s “theory of social interests” lay at the heart of sociological jurisprudence. Social interests are the prevalent claims, demands, desires, or expectations that human beings collectively seek to satisfy and that society should recognize and protect through law. Pound regarded social interests as empirical entities because one finds them solely in the law and legal processes. One can infer social interests only through the empirical investigations of such objective data as court decisions, legislative declarations, and various written works that refer to the law.

Through a painstaking and thorough analysis of hundreds of legal documents, Pound inventoried the social interests that law had asserted in civilized society. By the latter, he meant European countries in general and England and the United States in particular. Social interests must be legally recognized and achieved to maintain a society. Pound proposed six broad categories of social interests: (1) social interest in general security, (2) social interest in the security of social institutions, (3) social interest in general morals, (4) social interest in conservation of social resources, (5) social interest in general progress, and (6) social interest in individual life.

    See also
  • Comparative Law; Jhering, Rudolf von; Jurisprudence of Interests, European; Realism, American Legal; Sociological Jurisprudence; Sociology of Law; Transplants, Legal Borrowing and Reception as; United States

Further Readings
  • Hoeflich, M. H. (1997). Roman and Civil Law and the Development of Anglo-American Jurisprudence in the Nineteenth Century. Athens: University of Georgia Press.
  • Pound, Roscoe.The Scope and Purpose of Sociological Jurisprudence.” Harvard Law Review, 24, (1911-1912). 140-168, 591-619; 25: 489-516.
  • Pound, Roscoe.A Survey of Social Interests.” Harvard Law Review, 57, (1943). 1-39.
  • Pound, Roscoe. (1959). Jurisprudence, 5 vols. St. Paul, MN: West.
  • Wigdor, David. (1974). Roscoe Pound: Philosopher of Law. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
  • A. Javier Treviño
    Copyright © 2007 by SAGE Publications, Inc.

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