“Legal Realism”

Reading Dylan Matthews’ influential books list I was reminded that the name for the cynical approach to thinking about the law that I believe everyone who doesn’t have a law degree understands is correct is “legal realism.”

I’ve always found this a little bit confusing because coming from a philosophy background, it seems like this should be the name for the reverse view. Normally in philosophy the idea of being a “realist” about something (morality, numbers, possible worlds) is associated with the idea that it’s possible to make determinant answers to questions about the subject matter. It really is wrong to kill babies and it’s not just some convention you and I happen to believe in is a realist sort of thing to say. A legal realist, however, is the reverse of that.

Anyways, I think this is confusing and there should be some kind of legal theorist / philosopher summit at which it gets cleared up.