April 2012

Stephen Turner describes “The Social Study of Science before Kuhn”

Thomas Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions — in many ways established the modern field of science studies. Stephen Turner provides a brief, socioligist’s version of the lead-up to Kuhn’s seminal book. Here’s a quick summary of his key points: Bacon and Comte Turner begins with Francis Bacon’s “The New Atlantis” (1627). Although Bacon’s work was more political […]

December 2011

“The Right to Privacy” by Warren and Brandeis

The modern “right to privacy” is frequently attributed to Warren and Brandeis’ groundbreaking 1890 law review essay of that same name. Its initial purpose, according to Steven Childress, was to recognize, within the traditional common law, “a civil and non-contractual right of protection against invasions of privacy.”

Civil law’s influence on early United States law

It is a law-school maxim today that the United States is a common-law country, while most of Europe uses civil law: English-derived common law has as its most basic tenet the binding nature of judicial precedent, while Roman-derived civil law privileges statutes. But the more I investigate the history and details of each, the more clear it becomes to me that the United States, at least, owes (almost?) as much of its legal system to civil law as it does to “pure” common law.

December 2011

The (scientific) development of common-law precedent

One of the defining characteristics of common law (as opposed to civil law) is the binding nature of precedent, sometimes referred to by its Latin name of stare decisis. But before the seventeenth century, the defining characteristic of English common law was not this one, but rather that common law reflected universal and customary law, and as such the goal was for judges to utilize previous decisions as merely guides to help them get closer to the true (unwritten) laws of England, not as binding in themselves.