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Justice ‘Under’ Law: The Bodily Incarnation of Legal Conceptions Over Time

For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.

Romans 6:14—King James Bible (Cambridge ed.).


The article uses embodiment and the experiential basis of conceptual metaphor to argue for the metaphorical essence of abstract legal thought. Abstract concepts like ‘law’ and ‘justice’ need to borrow from a spatial, bodily, or physical prototype in order to be conceptualised, seen, for example, in the fact that justice preferably is found ‘under’ law. Three conceptual categories of how law is conceptualised is examined: law as an object, law as a vertical relation, and law as an area. The Google Ngram Viewer, based on the massive library of books that Google has scanned, has been used to study legally relevant conceptions over time within each of these three categories, from 1800 to 2000. In addition, the article suggests a type of analytical method of ‘metaphor triangulation,’ that is, the replacement of prevailing metaphors with unusual ones in order to increase the level of awareness of what conceptual content the prevailing metaphors involve.

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    For more on the details of Ngram Viewer, see [last visited 18 November 2013].

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    An even stronger claim, although not referring to a spatial relation, would be the one Judge Dread, the fictional ‘enforcer’ in a dystopian future played by Sylvester Stallone, does when arresting an entire block: “I am the law”, Judge Dredd, 1995 [41].


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Correspondence to Stefan Larsson.

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Larsson, S. Justice ‘Under’ Law: The Bodily Incarnation of Legal Conceptions Over Time. Int J Semiot Law 27, 613–626 (2014).

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  • Embodiment
  • Conceptual metaphor
  • Law and justice
  • Law and embodiment
  • Law and metaphor