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Comparing Sources of Truth in Criminal Law and Medicine

John Sadler, MD
UT Southwestern Medical School--Ethics and Medical Humanities Department

The methods for obtaining truth in criminal law and medicine differ markedly, each based on different historical and metaphysical sources. This presentation describes these differences, situates them historically, and considers their practical importance.

Anglo-American common law, a basis for contemporary criminal law, arose in England in the medieval period, based upon a metaphysics drawn from Judeo-Christian morality and foundational concepts like free will, desert, personal responsibility for action (as in for salvation and criminal culpability) and an individualism which held the singular person as the fundamental moral unit. In the ensuing centuries Anglo-American law has struggled with the proper relationships between morality, law, and the state. Modern medicine arose as an outgrowth of a secularizing Enlightenment period following the medieval era, building upon the new empirical Baconian science, and ultimately substituting the metaphysics of free will, individual responsibility, and desert with a secular metaphysics presupposing a fundamental unity of the sciences, multicausal explanation, and a dismantling of the concept of free will by the newly-emerging specialized sciences of biology, psychology, sociology, and anthropology. Today, the medieval legacy of Anglo-American criminal law and the Enlightenment legacy of secular science play out through markedly discrepant methods to truth, the latter an epistemic concept which should be relevant to both professional fields. These contrasting accounts of truth will be briefly presented and their practical implications discussed.

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  • Skip K.

    Interesting lecture, good conversation.

    February 26, 2013

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