The Path of the Law
By the time of his essay The Path of the Law, Holmes had completed the evolution to a behaviorist theory of law. Whatever you may think of Holmes's jurisprudence, The Path of the Law is an unambiguously great exercise in legal philosophy; certainly it withstands the test of time much better than The Common Law. Laws should be written, we learn, from the standpoint of "the bad man," he who will do the absolute minimum necessary to avoid the sanctions of his neighbors. In other words, it must create objective standards, that do not depend on the personal virtue or goodwill of the citizens. When the law seeks to determine the "intent" of someone who committed an act for which he is on trial, it is not seeking to determine whether he meant to do good or harm. The law seeks to know only whether he knew what the results of his action would be. The inquiry can be made only by considering the defendant's observable behavior.
The Path of the Law by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. was originally published in the "Harvard Law Review" in 1897.
When we study law we are not studying a mystery but a well-known profession. We are studying what we shall want in order to appear before judges, or to advise people in such a way as to keep them out of court. The reason why it is a profession, why people will pay lawyers to argue for them or to advise them, is that in societies like ours the command of the public force is intrusted to the judges in certain cases, and the whole power of the state will be put forth, if necessary, to carry out their judgments and decrees. People want to know under what circumstances and how far they will run the risk of coming against what is so much stronger than themselves, and hence it becomes a business to find out when this danger is to be feared. The object of our study, then, is prediction, the prediction of the incidence of the public force through the instrumentality of the courts.
- The Path of the Law