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date: 15 April 2021

Abstract and Keywords

Throughout its history, the insanity defense specifically and the more general concept of mental defect or incompetence have been grounded in the assumption that those people fit for the rule of law are able to give and to comprehend reasons for their actions. This chapter traces the evolution of perspectives on the nature of mental illness and the manner in which cultural and extra-scientific influences have shaped perspectives. These perspectives are most saliently expressed in statutory provisions and relevant case law summarized here and covering historical developments from ancient Greece and Rome to the present. Significant interactions between law and psychiatry are further highlighted and informed by core and controversial philosophical assumptions. Attention is given to differences between juridical and medical conceptions of responsibility.

Keywords: canon law, competence, corpus juris civilis, delusion, dementia, Frye standard, guilty but insane, inquisition, insanity defense, Lord Coke, madness, malleus maleficarum, McNaughtan rule, mens rea, Model Penal Code, paranoia, responsibility, Roman Law, testation, twelve tables, witch trials

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