Book on Justice and Empathy Published by the Late Professor Burt ’64


A new posthumously published book by the late Robert (“Bo”) A. Burt ’64 carries forward his sustained project of bringing psychoanalytic insights to bear upon legal analysis. An expert on issues found at the intersection of law and medicine, as well as constitutional law, Robert Burt (1939 –2015) was a long serving and beloved member of the Law School faculty and, at the time of his death, the Alexander M. Bickel Professor Emeritus. Justice and Empathy: Toward a Constitutional Ideal (Yale University Press) represents a fully articulated vision of his distinctive perspective.

Arguing against the understanding of law that views its purpose as merely to create definitive rules and doctrines for dispute resolution, Justice and Empathy conceptualizes the role of law and courts not simply as impersonal mechanisms but as moral and social agents for change, and for the protection of the vulnerable. Central to Burt’s thesis is the consideration of the work of judges as similar to that of psychoanalysts. The courts play the role of therapist, and as a result “must recognize their ultimate powerlessness to resolve the conflicts which appear before them, their dependence on the conflicted parties to take responsibility to forge relationships of mutual respect that supplant the previous hostilities between and within them.” Judges, like psychoanalysts, work to create a safe space where contending groups can examine the nature of their internal conflicts.

In his foreword to the book, Robert C. Post ’77, Sterling Professor of Law, writes: “This posthumous book is an unexpected gift from a departed friend. Reading it is like hearing Bo alive once again, summoning us to acknowledge and forgive our own frailties… Bo calls on us to appreciate the complex web of human relationships in which our constitutional values are necessarily embodied.”

Professor Burt joined the Yale Law School faculty in 1976 and was the author of numerous books, including In the Whirlwind: God and Humanity in Conflict (2012); Death is That Man Taking Names: Intersections of American Medicine, Law and Culture (2002); and The Constitution in Conflict (1992).