I. Introduction

There is a crisis of attention according to Matthew Crawford. Today, it’s a well-worn cliche that we are in an age of ever-increasing distraction. Many, if not most of us start on tasks only to be interrupted by a series of distracting notifications or internal itches to look at social media or other digital enticements. Those of us in the legal profession have a special obligation to make sure we pay attention to what is relevant. The purpose of this blog is to understand this new digital beast we find ourselves on. Ultimately, the food of this monster is data. If we want to steer it towards some semblance of justice, we need to get a handle on how it works, and how the law can or could reign it in. It’s either that or get swallowed up without even realizing it. That’s why I first want to lay the groundwork on understanding data and how it relates to equity.

This is an extensive topic with many dynamic parts. Each of these pieces could easily be a book on its own. Nevertheless, I think it is important for interested people to understand the framework I am using, even if it is ultimately incomplete.

The method we are going to use will examine the following: (1) the etymology of terms; (2) the history of the concept; (3) the functional definition; and (4) the application. The general framework I use is Aristotelean. Everything that exists has a cause. For Aristotle, there are four types of causes: (a) material, (b) efficient, (c) formal, and (d) final. (See Physics, 194b-195b, Aristotle, from The Complete Works of Aristotle edited by Jonathan Barnes, Sixth edition 1995). Etymology and history roughly correspond to the efficient cause or how it came to be. The definition more pertains to the form, essence, and matter of a subject. Thus, part of that is usually situating it in the genus and species. Finally, the analysis of the application deals with the effect and telos of a subject. The ultimate reason and goal for even discussing an idea.

All words retain the echo of history. In order to see things clearly, the lenses we use must be clean and firmly grounded. To be firmly grounded means to be rooted in history. Otherwise, everything will just be a blur. The tradition of looking at the origin of words stretches back thousands of years to at least the time of Plato. (See Cratylus, 404c, Plato, from Plato The Collected Dialogues, edited by Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns, twentieth edition, 2009). By better understanding the past we can then look to shape the future.

Next week we will begin by looking at the etymology of equity.