Euclid’s Theorem

An oft-repeated statement by Supreme Court Judges is: “Statutes should be construed, not as Theorems of Euclid… but words must be construed with some imagination of the purposes, which lie behind them.”

Are the words in a Theorem of Euclid not purposively imagined? A strange notion has been harbored all these years that mathematics is purely mechanical (and not nearly as creative as judicial interpretation of statutes is). For the record, Euclid’s Theorem states, “There are infinitely many primes”. Without a purposive interpretation of the 5 words used, the Theorem is barely understood. And yet in October, 2014 – Euclid found his 67th mention in an SC judgment.

In all fairness, the quoted text is originally ascribed to Judge Learned Hand, one of the most prominent judges in the history of the American legal system. In United States v. Carroll Towing, (1947) 159 F.2d 169 C.A.2, the American Judge attempted to devise a mathematical equation, “the calculus of negligence”, to decide whether or not a defendant breached any duty of care owed to the claimant and suggested that the question of breach of duty can be answered by reference to three quantifiable variables. It would be out of line to share any last words on the mathematical abilities of Judge Learned Hand. But, yes, several Supreme Court Judges know nothing about Euclid.

Portrait Of Greek Geometer Euclid

“No proposition Euclid wrote
No formulae the text-books know,
Will turn the bullet from your coat,
Or ward the tulwar’s downward blow.
Strike hard who cares – shoot straight who can
The odds are on the cheaper man.”

Rudyard Kipling, Arithmetic on the Frontier, 1886

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