Journal of Civil Law Studies


philosophical concepts of alchemy, mixed legal systems, legal transplants, comparative private law


The terms “mixed legal systems” and “legal transplants” are used frequently in comparative law. What they denote exactly, is difficult to ascertain: what does the mixité consist of, what are its ingredients or building blocks; which types of mixité exist, how are legal transplants transformed in the receiving legal system? Comparative lawyers often resort to metaphors when they try to describe and explain these complex phenomena: metaphors from cooking, music, horticulture or biology. Whenever there are mixtures, trans-formations, or transmutations, metaphors from the philosophical concepts of alchemy are at least equally illuminating. This article discusses the different problems of conceptualising and describing mixed systems and legal transplants by using alchemistic ideas and metaphors. It also gives an introduction to the philosophical concepts of alchemy in outline, and, in the appendix, in more detail, because lawyers are usually unfamiliar with alchemy. Yet, alchemy was central to the historical development of philosophy and the natural sciences, as well as to theology, from antiquity well into the late seventeenth century. However, anyone in search of the mystical and the occult will be disappointed: many serious alchemists in the Renaissance period were predecessors of modern chemists. They were early researchers and scientists, and so were the concepts they developed and believed in.

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