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Pluralism: Rashomon and Contested Conceptions of Criminality


Denis J. Brion


Washington and Lee University

September 2006

Washington & Lee Legal Studies Paper No. 2006-11

Abstract:     
The 1951 Akira Kurosawa film, Rashomon, is famous for depicting four often radically different reports of a violent incident that took place in a grove of trees in twelfth century Japan, the reports of the three participants in the incident and of the one witness to it. By considering this seemingly puzzling depiction in light of advances being made in the field of cognitive science, each of these conflicting reports can be understood as being based on one of the four fundamental ways in which the human mind can place events in a cognitive frame and thereby provide the structure for individual human consciousness. In his 1978 text, Rethinking Criminal Law, George Fletcher provided a trenchant description of his thesis that "the criminal law is a polycentric body of principles", bringing to light four fundamental ways in which the judiciary, by way of resolving particular disputes, determines the criminality of particular acts. Again, these four fundamental modes of determining criminality can be understood as being based on the four cognitive frames available for the structuring of consciousness. Because this polycentric nature can be identified across the various substantive areas of the law, this understanding provides a way of addressing the possibilities for developing a substantive jurisprudence of the law.

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Date posted: October 31, 2006  

Suggested Citation

Brion, Denis J., Pluralism: Rashomon and Contested Conceptions of Criminality (September 2006). Washington & Lee Legal Studies Paper No. 2006-11. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=941427 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.941427

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Denis J. Brion (Contact Author)
Washington and Lee University ( email )
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