The Lawyer and the Lightning Rod
In the summer of 1783, a trial took place in the French city of Arras. One M. de Vissery, a resident of the nearby village of St. Omer, was appealing a decision by his local aldermen, who required him to remove a lightning rod he had put on his neighbor's chimney. His young defense lawyer was Maximilien Robespierre, who made a name for himself by winning the case. In preparation, Robespierre and his senior
colleague corresponded with natural philosophers and jurisconsultants. Robespierre then persuasively resolved the crucial problem, namely, the proper relations of scientific to legal authority. He exploited the empiricist dogma common to contemporary physics and jurisprudence to argue that judges need not defer to scientific experts, but must only consider the facts, which required no expertise. It was a first approximation of an argument Robespierre would make with mounting authority over the next decade.
|Type of resource
|February 10, 2023; 1999
|Robespierre, Maximilien, 1758-1794
|Science and law
|eighteenth century France
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