A Rabid Dog, the Third Shooter, and Fifty Head of Cattle: Mythos and Logos in the Culture of American Criminal Justice

Open Access
Lappas, Spero Thomas
Graduate Program:
American Studies
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
May 01, 2015
Committee Members:
  • Charles David Kupfer, Dissertation Advisor
  • Charles David Kupfer, Committee Chair
  • Michael Lee Barton, Committee Member
  • John Rogers Haddad, Committee Member
  • Donald Charles Hummer Ii, Special Member
  • American Studies
  • Criminal Justice
  • Culture
  • To Kill a Mockingbird
  • The Man who Shot Liberty Valance
  • The Ox Bow Incident
This dissertation holds that the operation of criminal justice in America – the day- to-day practices of adjudication and enforcement – is characterized by two faculties which occupy the larger and more inclusive realm of sovereignty: the forceful and the rational. I call these faculties mythos and logos after the philosophical and anthropological names given to the competing methods of answering universal questions which have prevailed since very ancient times. The use of these ancient philosophical terms is intentional and reflects the crux of my theoretical orientation, which is unabashedly classicist, although thoroughly up-to-date. I will demonstrate that the dual forces of mythos and logos continue to compete in the present-day arena of criminal law and in the contest which seeks to answer difficult social questions playing out in that arena by virtue of what courts and lawyers call “the adversary system.” This contest between opposing forces becomes explicitly obvious in the law’s current efforts to address the consequences of wrongful criminal convictions, the area which I use as a case study to approach the prevailing division between mythos and logos in twenty-first century American legal sovereignty. Throughout this doctoral dissertation, I use American Studies methodologies including historical analysis, close textual reading, ethnographic practice, and archival research. In keeping with the multi-disciplinary approach which American Studies uses to answer questions about the American experience, I have informed my work from the fields of literature, psychology, cognitive science, jurisprudence, ancient and modern philosophy, religious studies, classical mythology, and history. Additionally, being an experienced attorney, I incorporate my legal training and knowledge within and alongside my American Studies methods. The result is an interdisciplinary scholarly endeavor which blends the rigorous methods of two different fields: American Studies and the law.