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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

On Scholarly Wisdom (Or Dodginess)

A review in this week's NYT Book Review of Joshua Henkin's * new book, Matrimony, begins like this:

The early pages of "Matrimony," Joshua Henkin's second novel, call to mind an academic trick employed by Carter Heinz, one of the main characters: "He had started to write what he called beyond-the-scope-of-this-paper papers, in which he would begin by listing all of the things he wasn't going to write about."

Sounds familar.  A search on Westlaw reveals in excess of 10,000 instances of "beyond-the-scope-of-this-[article, essay, comment, etc.]."**  How often is this an act of simple scholarly care and modesty -- and how often is beyond-the-scopiness used as a corner of the rug under which to sweep killer questions that are, in fact, very much within the paper's proper scope?  That question, dear readers, is, um, beyond the. . . well, you know the rest.

* Bonus law school relevance point: If I'm not mistaken, Joshua Henkin is the son of my own con law teacher, the wonderful Louis Henkin.

** Including at least 13 uses of the phrase by Prawfsblawg's authors. 

Posted by Paul Horwitz on October 30, 2007 at 09:11 AM in Life of Law Schools | Permalink


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I dunno, Frank. As a history PhD, I sometimes get tired of people being disappointed when I can't come up with names, dates, and other arguably significant factual stuff that happened any time in the past, anywhere.

But on the other hand, much of academia seems to be focusing on narrower and more specialized works and knowledge. Or at least those within my period, my scope of expertise, and those relevant to this blog posting are.

Posted by: Joseph Slater | Oct 30, 2007 1:57:52 PM

I'm reminded of historians for whom most questions are, sadly, "outside my period." They certainly conserve their expertise, but sometimes at the expense of a wider relevance.

The more damaging "beyond the scope" points occur when someone with a very narrow framework of inquiry persists in making certain policy recommendations without acknowledging the types of concerns that can come up outside his or her framework.

Posted by: Frank | Oct 30, 2007 11:15:05 AM

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