Book Review - (Of Susanna L. Blumenthal, Law and the Modern Mind: Consciousness and Responsibility in American Legal Culture (2016))
Journal of Legal Education, Vol. 67, No. 1 (Autumn 2017, Forthcoming)
20 Pages Posted: 14 Oct 2017
Date Written: September 19, 2017
In a masterful book titled Law and the Modern Mind, Susanna Blumenthal simultaneously describes the battles among scientists, doctors, and jurists in the period following the Revolutionary War and up through the Gilded Age, and takes on traditional scholarship in legal history as to who this person or “mind” is. Her study not only provides an alternative account of the formation of American character, but also provides a series of detailed portraits of the various turning points in the formation of that character, and the legal determination of capable, accountable personhood. This review essay initially discusses Blumenthal’s approach to legal history and the challenge she presents to traditional scholarship. The second section provides an overview of Blumenthal’s methodology, which draws on a breathtaking base of source materials; she weaves hundreds of cases, treatises, and biographical notes into her observations. Finally, this review considers what is one of the most powerful and important contributions of her book—an in-depth analysis of the intersection of law and medicine in the period under study. The review points out ways in which Blumenthal’s insights can be brought to bear on modern conversations involving law, genetics, and neuroscience.
Keywords: legal history, intellectual history, mind, criminal responsibility, civil responsibility, neuroscience, jurisprudence, common law, medical jurisprudence, science and the law, torts, contracts, will contests
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