Roscoe Pound’s Theory of Social Engineering

Roscoe Pound’s Theory of Social Engineering


Roscoe Pound, one of the most famous American legal philosophers, was a prominent Jurist of the Sociological School of Jurisprudence which emerged in the 19th to 20th century as a protest to the positivist theory of law. Sociological school, in a nutshell, considers societal customs as well as the society itself as a source of law. It argues that law is not about a man but the association of a man with another man in society.

And Pound, who is still considered as the father of the Sociological school, supported this concept with the addition of his own theory of ‘Social Engineering’ based on this school.

What is Social Engineering?

In his theory of Social engineering, Pound compared lawyers to engineers – he believed that law, just like any other scientific subject, is a body of knowledge and experience that is used by the ‘social engineers’ like lawyers and advocates to apply structure to the society. He equated law to engineering in the sense that how engineers use their knowledge to give structure to their finished products, the law can be used in the same way to give structure to the finished product of happiness in the society.

In fact, Pound advocated that the law’s primary objective is to create balance and harmony in the society as every individual holds their own interests supreme. In simpler terms: Maximum Happiness with Minimum Friction among the members of the society when a conflict of interests arises. He advocated that it is the duty and objective of law to intervene and mediate during such clashes between self-interests and community interests.

Other than that, Pound gave a lot of emphasis on the interests of an individual as well as the community that should be given equal importance until and unless a conflict arises. On the basis of this, he gave three boundaries of interest that include:

  • Individual interest
    which includes personal interests like the interest of personality, interest of substance like occupation and property, and lastly, the interest of domestic relations like marriage, maintenance of wife and children, etc.
  • Public Interest
    Which includes the political interests of a politically organised society that include the preservation of the State and protection of the natural resources of the said State.
  • Social Interest
    Which include the community interests of an individual or a whole community itself like the fulfilment of social life as well as the religious life with economic stability to maintain a peaceful standard of living. In a nutshell, these interests surround the concept of security of religious beliefs, economic stability, peace, morals, etc.

Five Postulates given by Roscoe Pound

Based on the abovementioned boundaries of interests, Pound gave five postulates or interests that are needed to be protected during a conflict or clash of interests. These five postulates include:

  • People in society must not exercise aggression on one another – a postulate that can be seen as a base of Criminal Law in the modern era;
  • An individual shall be able to benefit and commercialize any thing that they invented or made – a postulate that can be seen as a base of Law of Patent in the modern era;
  • People must fulfil the promises they made among themselves – a postulate that can be seen as a base of Law of Contracts in the modern era;
  • People must rectify or compensate any mistake done by us that cause damage to the other person – a postulate that can be seen as a base of Law of Tort in the modern era;
  • People must indemnify the damages caused to another due to any dangerous substance present on their own property – a postulate that can be seen as a base of Law of Strict Liability in the modern era.

Pound, however, also admitted that these postulates are not absolute and can vary from situation to situation. Here, according to him, comes the role of the social engineers to apply the law to the structure of the case and bring the ‘finished product’ of justice and peace to the society. The relative values of these postulates entail these as the base of civil society and if any more postulates are needed to be added in accordance with the changing times, then so shall they be added.

Through these interests, Pound attempted to bring in a more balanced way of interpreting the Sociological School; giving the mostly idealistic school a more realistic interpretation that can be applied in real life. However, this caused his theory to attract a lot of criticism that we will discuss as below.


The major criticism of Pound’s Social engineering theory was that too scientific and mechanical; especially due to the fact Pound used the term ‘engineers’ to denotes law practisers, which almost equated the society as some kind of factory-like mechanism due to society being the source of law for this school.

In addition to that, the focus of this theory on interest was also criticised on the basis that it was too much focused on interests rather than the association of man with another man in the society. Not to mention, Pound’s avoidance of mention which interest is superior – individual or social also caused many to criticise as it made the theory seem too much trying to balance things out.

Another criticism commonly used for this theory is how it ignores or avoids highlighting the dynamic feature of law unlike other science subjects; causing it to be more of an issue when it is compared as such.

Moreover, the patent law indirectly mentioned in the postulates is quite vaguely described and can be misused if taken word to word without adding additional interpretation to it – especially when it is for a product or thing that has to do with health-related issues like medicines or vaccines.

The last criticism that this theory often faces is the fact that political concepts change quite often in the changing times, which can very well cause un stability in the field of law; especially when a lot of the law, according to Pound, is dependent on the implementation by the ‘social engineers’ when the State needs to mediate between the clash of interests.


  • V. D. Mahajan, ‘Jurisprudence and Legal Theory’, Fifth Edition, Eastern Book Company
  • RWN Dias, ‘Jurisprudence’, Fifth Edition
  • Dr. B N Mani Tripathi,’Jurisprudence Legal Theory’, Sixteenth Edition, Allahabad Book Agency

Author: Debapriya Biswas,
Amity Law School, Noida (2nd year)

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