Concepts of Law
Article by Mathew D. McCubbins & Mark Turner
From Volume 86, Number 3 (March, 2013)
All of law depends on vast concepts that stretch across time, space, causation, and agency. Far-reaching concepts make law possible from legislation and interpretation to enforcement and adjudication; from weighing evidence to establishing motive and intent; and from imposing fines or sentences to awarding compensation. But all of human thought and memory is just here and now. The vast dependencies of time, space, causation, and agency must exist in individual brains. How we manage to use here-and-now mental processes to produce legal concepts that stretch very broadly over vast expanses of our lives, institutions, and worlds is the point of this Article. We will discuss how human beings transform vast dependencies that stretch across time, space, causation, and agency into tractable, much smaller, and more compact concepts that we can hold onto, manipulate, and develop. We will explain how these compact concepts are “blends” for thinking about much larger mental webs of ideas that are too large to hold in mind themselves. We will also suggest a research agenda that may allow us to better understand what sorts of blends work, and which ones we discard and when. Examples of blends are everywhere in law. A “decedent” in law, for example, is a kind of agent who exists (but does not live) in the present, who is imbued with some of the intentionality of a person who once existed, and for whom there are documentary records expressing this past intentionality.
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