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Spiritualism and Will(s) in the Age of Contract


Christopher J. Buccafusco


Illinois Institute of Technology - Chicago-Kent College of Law

February 21, 2008


Abstract:     
Spiritualism was one of the most salient cultural phenomena of late-nineteenth-century American life. The belief of considerable numbers of respectable citizens that they could communicate with the dead via an entranced medium called into question both popular and scientific conceptions of rationality, volition, and freedom. In turn, these changing ideas about the mind challenged American law's commitment to its belief in free and reasonable legal actors. This Article, the first to consider Spiritualism's implications for American law, examines the legal reaction to the anxieties Spiritualism generated for the age of contract. Principally, it looks at the judicial response to cases of Spiritualists' wills that were challenged on the grounds of insanity and undue influence. In dealing with such cases, I argue, American judges adopted a realist, pragmatic strategy of promoting polyphonic discussion and preserving democratic decision making. Approaching the subject from the perspective of cultural legal history, I suggest that popular culture, science, and the law were mutually constitutive discourses in which nineteenth-century Americans enacted their anxieties about the mind, the will, and the family. Finally, I argue that a contextualized understanding of these nineteenth-century debates can suggest much about current legal debates about rationality, responsibility, and volition engendered by recent discoveries in behavioral economics, the psychology of emotions, and cognitive neuroscience.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 43

Keywords: volition, insanity, age of contract, wills, science, culture

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Date posted: February 25, 2008  

Suggested Citation

Buccafusco, Christopher J., Spiritualism and Will(s) in the Age of Contract (February 21, 2008). Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1096367 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1096367

Contact Information

Christopher J. Buccafusco (Contact Author)
Illinois Institute of Technology - Chicago-Kent College of Law ( email )
565 W. Adams St.
Chicago, IL 60661-3691
United States
312-906-5163 (Phone)

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