Monday, October 8, 2007

Elementary My Dear Watson

Law students learn to think critically about law forensically. Like detectives, law students observe the facts and the opinion and work backwards to uncover what really happened and why it happened precisely that way. Consider this exchange between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson:

"I have already explained to you that what is out of the common is usually a guide rather than a hindrance. In solving a problem of this sort, the grand thing is to be able to reason backward. That is a very useful accomplishment, and a very easy one, but people do not practice it much. In the everyday affairs of life it is more useful to reason forward, and so the other comes to be neglected. There are fifty who can reason synthetically for one who can reason analytically."

I confess," said I, "that I do not quite follow you."

"I hardly expected that you would. Let me see if I can make it clearer. Most people, if you describe a train of events to them, will tell you what the result would be. They can put those events together in their minds, and argue from them that something will come to pass. There are few people, whoever, who, if you told them a result, would be able to evolve from their own inner consciousness what the steps were which led up to that result. This power is what I mean when I talk of reasonaing backward, or analytically."

Sir Arthur Conon Doyle, A Study in Scarlet (1887).

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