Cognitive Emotion and the Law
54 Pages Posted: 2 Aug 2016 Last revised: 2 Sep 2017
Date Written: August 1, 2016
Many wrongly believe that emotion plays little or no role in legal reasoning. Unfortunately, Langdell and his “scientific” case method encourage this error. A careful review of analysis in the real world, however, belies this common belief. Emotion can be cognitive, and cognition can be emotional. Additionally, modern neuroscience underscores the “co-dependence” of reason and emotion. Thus, even if law were a certain science of appellate cases (which it is not), emotion could not be torn from such “science.”
As we reform legal education, we must recognize the role of cognitive emotion in law and legal analysis. If we fail to do this, we shortchange law schools, students, and the bar in grievous ways. We shortchange the very basics of true and best legal analysis. We shortchange at least half the universe of expression (the affective half). We shortchange the importance of watching and guarding the true interests of our clients, which interests are inextricably intertwined with affective experience. We shortchange the importance of motivation in law, life, and legal education. How can lawyers understand the motives of clients and other relevant parties without understanding the emotions that motivate them? How can lawyers hope to persuade judges, other advocates, or parties across the table in a transaction without grasping affective experience that motivates them? How can law professors fully engage students while ignoring affective experience that motivates students? Finally, we shortchange matters of life and death: emotions affect health and thus the very vigor of the bar.
Using insights from practice, modern neuroscience, and philosophy, I therefore explore emotion and other affective experience through a lawyer’s lens. In doing this, I reject claims that emotion and other affective experience are mere feeling (though I do not discount the importance of feeling). I also reject claims that emotion and other affective experience are necessarily irrational or beyond our control. Instead, such experience is often intentional and quite rational and controllable. After exploring law and affective experience at more “macro” levels, I consider three more specific examples of the interaction of law and emotion: (i) emotion, expression, and the first amendment, (ii) emotion in legal elements and exceptions, and (iii) emotion and lawyer mental health. To provide lawyers and legal scholars with a “one-source” overview of emotion and the law, I have also included an Appendix addressing a number of particular emotions.
Keywords: Emotion, Cognitive Emotion, Reason, Logos, Pathos, Legal Analysis, Legal Reasoning, Neuroscience, Philosophy, Persuasion, Rhetoric, Expression, First Amendment, Free Speech, Common Law Murder, Mental Health, NAACP v. McCrory, Anger, Contempt, Disgust, Hate, Malice
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