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Law, Mystery, and the Humanities

Law, Mystery, and the Humanities: Collected Essays

Logan Atkinson
Diana Majury
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  • Book Info
    Law, Mystery, and the Humanities
    Book Description:

    The trans-disciplinary study of law and the humanities is becoming a more widespread focus among scholars from a range of disciplines. Complementary in several major ways, concepts and theories of law can be used to formulate fresh ideas about the humanities, and vice versa.Law, Mystery, and the Humanities, a collection of essays by leading scholars, is based on the hypothesis that law has significant contributions to make to ongoing discussions of philosophical issues recurrent in the humanities.

    The philosophical issues in question include the role of rationality in human experience, the problem of dissent, the persistence of suffering, and the possibility of transcendence. In each of these areas, law is used to add complexity and offer divergent perspectives, thus moving important questions in the humanities forward by introducing the possibility of alternative analysis. Ranging from discussions of detective fiction, Chomsky's universal grammar, the poetry of Margaret Atwood, the Great Plague of London, and more,Law, Mystery, and the Humanitiesoffers a unique examination of trans-disciplinary potential.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8847-6
    Subjects: Law

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. 1 Points of Convergence: Law, Mystery, and the Humanities
    (pp. 3-36)

    In May 2006 it was widely reported that one of life’s most persistent puzzles had finally been solved. It turns out that the egg really did precede the chicken. According to John Brookfield of the University of Nottingham, the resolution of this problem resides in evolutionary genetics. The DNA of the living organism inside the eggshell would have been the same as that of the chicken that ultimately emerged, meaning the egg was the first member of the species. Brookfield’s conclusions were supported by David Papineau of King’s College London and Charles Bourns, chair of the trade group ‘Great British...


    • 2 Murder and Mayhem in Legal Method: or, the Strange Case of Sherlock Holmes v. Sam Spade
      (pp. 39-66)

      This chapter sets out to explore some possible connections between the literary universe inhabited by fictional detectives and the more practical world inhabited by lawyers. No claim is made that literary texts produced by writers of detective fiction should be read in the same way as legal texts produced by legislators and lawyers. For present purposes I will adopt Posner’s view that legal and literary texts have different functions and are produced for different audiences, and thus should be read or interpreted differently.¹ Instead, the chapter focuses on the ways in which fictional accounts of law provide a literary mirror...

    • 3 Analytic Philosophy and the Interpretation of Constitiutional Rights
      (pp. 67-90)

      Analytic philosophy has been used in many areas of Anglo-American law to help clarify the content and the implications of the legal concepts central to these areas. As early as the 1950s, Herbert Hart and Tony Honoré argued that the type of philosophical analysis that was central to the school of philosophy known as ‘ordinary language philosophy’ could shed light on the concept of causation as it is used in tort law and criminal law.² Hart and Honoré tried to show, in particular, that a clear and detailed examination of the uses to which we put the concept of causation...

    • 4 Nature: From Philosophy of Science to Legal Theory ... and Back?
      (pp. 91-120)

      It all started on the banks of the Nile. Measuring the land, delimiting plots whose boundaries had been washed out by the floods of the Nile, such was the work of applied geometry carried out by land surveyors known as harpedonaptes (official geometricians of sorts at the service of Pharaoh). In so doing, they ‘de-termined’ (in the proper sense of setting aterm, an end, a boundary) property and thereby established everyone’s rights by distributing and alloting them (according to ‘distributive justice’) to each. The scientist (at the time) and the jurist-scribe-geometrician thus combined in a single individual.

      This intimacy...

    • 5 Language and Law as Objects of Scientific Study
      (pp. 121-142)

      Interdisciplinarity in law and linguistics represents a fascinating and worthwhile project, but it is a recent endeavour that is difficult to foster.¹ Good reasons for engaging in such scholarship include the fact that ‘new perspectives provided by one side can introduce wonderful new questions, and often satisfying answers, for the other that would not have otherwise emerged,’² while forcing both sides to re-examine acknowledged and unconscious assumptions.³ Further, the fields of semantics and pragmatics are viewed as being in a position to help jurists ‘in disambiguating and otherwise making determinate problematic legal texts.’⁴ Yet collaboration is still relatively limited, perhaps...


    • 6 I Beg to Differ: Interdisciplinary Questions about Law, Language, and Dissent
      (pp. 145-166)

      Stability. Change. Each is necessary, each is feared, and law is deeply implicated in both. Modern law, Fitzpatrick reminds us, is stretched between the demands of stable determination and responsive change.² There is a constant risk that the demand for equal application of law can blind law to the demands of particular justice, just as there is an equivalent risk that attention to the particular can threaten to undermine the stability of law itself. Each time a new dispute comes before the court, a judge is required to ask whether this case is like others before it, whether it differs,...

    • 7 Imagining Sedition: Law and the Emerging Public Sphere in Upper Canada, c. 1798–1828
      (pp. 167-214)

      Trials for political offences dominated every major episode of dissent in Upper Canada (present-day Ontario), from the first substantial manifestation of organized political opposition in 1804–8 to the aftermath of rebellion and invasions of 1837–8, and suggest the broader prominence of legal struggles in pre-Confederation British North American politics. While politics and conflict over abuses of authority extended to the more routine business of the criminal courts and civil proceedings, trials for sedition, treason, and related offences were the primary legal engagements between governments and their opponents.¹ This chapter revisits my earlier work on sedition prosecutions in the...


    • 8 Human Rights Poetry as Ethical Tribunal: Bodies and Bystanders in Margaret Atwood’s ‘Footnote to the Amnesty Report on Torture’
      (pp. 217-246)

      With recent attention to human rights education through literature, evidenced by the prominence of studies in trauma and testimonial literatures and the rise of conferences and special issues of journals dedicated to literary human rights, there is a revival of interest in categories of sympathy, compassion, and empathy that may be evoked by literary reading.¹ Contra W.H. Auden’s gloomy pronouncement that ‘Poetry makes nothing happen,’² an affective model of reading suggests that if literature has the capacity to move readers so as to provoke an internal shift, it may also have the capacity to prompt action. Prominent philosophy, law, and...

    • 9 Who Do We Blame for Blame? Moving beyond the Fiction of Blame in The Sweet Hereafter
      (pp. 247-278)

      Having taught with Russell Banks’s novelThe Sweet Hereafter¹ in a Law and Literature seminar, I became fascinated with the issue of blame and its relationship with law, which is one of the novel’s central themes. In this paper, I useThe Sweet Hereafteras the entry point from which to examine the pre-eminence accorded to blame in social and legal contexts and to explore how the two contexts interact to produce an escalating focus on, and need for, blame.

      Through this examination, I see blame operating as a cultural fiction of resolution that appeals to and relies on a...

    • 10 ‘Our Woe ... Our Great Distress’: Law, Literature, and Suffering during the Great Plague of London, 1665
      (pp. 279-302)

      The seventeenth century was probably the most tumultuous in English history since the Norman Conquest. Opening with the ascension of the Stuarts, continuing with the constitutional crises of mid-century, shocked by the execution of Charles I and the rule of Oliver Cromwell, apparently stabilized by the Restoration, shaken by the religious uncertainty of the reign of James II and the anticipated succession crisis, and then punctuated by the Glorious Revolution of 1688 – the seventeenth century presented a terrible mixture of confusion, trauma, and bloodshed for the people of England.

      As is often the case, it was an unfortunate coincidence of...


    • 11 The Strange Gospel and a Common Law: The Reconciling Word to a Fragmented World
      (pp. 305-346)
      M.H. OGILVIE

      If theology and law have anything in common, surely it is a delight in seemingly endless speculation. Mapping the perfect city, whether heavenly or earthly, inspires debates without end over terrains without signposts, yet seems as eerily similar as Earth and Mars, except not quite the same. The conceptual pieces each discipline moves, chess-like, about also seem familiar, nor did they change over the course of the twentieth century. Intellectual activity at the end of the century occupied the same disturbing zone evoked at the end of the previous century by Nietzsche in 1888 inThe Twilight of the Idols....

    • 12 The Re-enchantment of the World? Max Weber, Ernst Troeltsch, and Human Rights
      (pp. 347-370)

      When I think about the intersection of law and religion today, my thoughts consistently return to the contemporary human rights project.¹ As a Christian, I find a number of shared elements between my religion and human rights, and I suspect that adherents of other religions would find similar convergences.² Like religions, human rights establish a normative framework to govern social life. This framework is set forth in the most authoritative way; rights are absolute and inalienable, and although they are guarded by the state they are generally considered to be higher than the state. When we enquire about the nature...

  9. List of Contributors
    (pp. 371-371)