Praising the World “by Geometrical Terms”: Legal Metrics, Science and Indicators in Swift’s Voyage to Laputa
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The article focuses on the epistemological paradigms that underpin the current trends in comparative legal research, by assessing them within the framework of the law-and-literature movement. In particular, it examines the scientific state of mind and the veering towards quantitative approaches which now percolate through legal comparative studies. The article argues that such state of mind is not merely confined to the ambit of comparative law. It has indeed several traits in common with the scientific mentality which has been saturating the knowledge system in Western culture since the seventeenth century. This scientific state of mind was one of Jonathan Swift’s main targets. In Gulliver’s Travels, A Tale of a Tub, and A Discourse Concerning the Mechanical Operation of the Spirit, Swift satirised the seventeenth-century scientific program, which had reduced the advancement of knowledge into a system that is very similar to twenty-first century information systems. This reduction was influenced by Cartesian philosophy and was achieved through methodological innovation. But it was also a consequence of the debate on ancient and modern learning, which had originated in France, but had immediate resonance in England. Swift rejected absolute reliance on quantitative methods: not only does this make it possible to set an equation between law and literature, but it also allows us to bring humanities into the debate about quantification in comparative law – and, as a consequence, to reappraise through literature some common assumptions we usually make about the law.