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School of Law

New book explores the role of imagination in legal reasoning

A new book authored by an academic from Queen Mary University of London is the first to offer an interdisciplinary approach on one of the most neglected dimensions of legal thought; imagination.

9 April 2020

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Artefacts of Legal Inquiry by Professor Maksymilian Del Mar, Professor of Legal Theory in Queen Mary’s School of Law argues that imagination is necessary if judges are to engage effectively when it comes to legal reasoning.

Professor Del Mar argues that judges need to identify what values, vulnerabilities and interests are at stake in the cases they are deciding, and this requires a degree of imagination.

An interdisciplinary approach

The work is novel in that it brings together a number of other disciplines in conversation with law and legal theory including philosophical work on imagination over the last decade as well as the work on relations between imagination, emotion and the body of work in second generation cognitive science.

“The insights developed here could not have been discovered without putting into conversation the  different disciplines, and perhaps especially, the importance of relating the cognitive humanities with legal theory,” explained Professor Del Mar.

The book develops a new model of imagination and a related model of language that triggers people to imagine, in what is referred to in the monograph as ‘artefactual language.’ The book also sets out four case studies, illustrating imagination and artefactual language in action in legal practice: fictions, metaphors, figures and scenarios.

Professor Del Mar said: “The book shows how each of these things help to trigger imagination – both for individual judges and advocates, as well as for the legal community over time – and how each of them does so in distinct ways. The book also contains new models of how fictions, metaphors, figures and scenarios work in legal thought, and why they are valuable to it.”

Challenging assumptions

The work challenges long-held assumptions about legal reasoning as something that is best done without recourse to emotion and imagination. Professor Del Mar explained: “The field of the theory of legal reasoning continues to be dominated by models of rationality that separate out reason from emotion, or reason and the body. This book shows why we cannot do that – why it is crucial to integrate imagination, emotion and the body into theories of how judges reason and how they ought to reason.”

The book, the result of over six years of research, also argues that we need to take the sociality of legal reasoning seriously. This includes studying the interaction between judges and advocates in a case, but also studying communication between judges over time, especially judges now signalling to future judges.

Professor Del Mar said: “It was surprising, at least to me, to see just how important this social dimension is to legal reasoning, and how important it is also to understanding the imagination. It is also important because it shows the social dynamics of imagination itself: so much of imagination is theorised – for instance in psychology and philosophy – on the basis of an individual mind. This book shows why it’s important to model imagination in a way that takes those social dynamics seriously.”

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