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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter August 18, 2019

Unity and Multiplicity in Contract Law: From General Principles to Transaction-Types

Peter Benson


Modern contract law is characterized by a certain kind of unity and multiplicity. On the one hand, it establishes fundamental principles that apply to all contracts in general. But at the same time, it specifies further principles and rules for particular kinds of contracts or transaction-types that mark out their distinctive features, incidents and effects. Clearly, a viable theory of contract law should be able to provide a suitable account of both aspects. The central critical contention of The Choice Theory of Contracts is that all prior approaches, in particular rights-based theories, have failed to do so. Indeed, Dagan and Heller argue that only a theory that explains the settled rules of contract law as teleologically oriented toward facilitating individuals’ pursuit of their different substantive goods, and thus as primarily power-conferring in this particularly robust sense, can provide the needed account. Such a theory, they believe, would be not only interpretatively accurate with respect to the actual law but also fully acceptable as a liberal view of contract. This Article challenges the core contentions of choice theory, suggesting why it may be unable to meet its own goal of explaining how contract law coherently specifies and integrates the general and specific dimensions of enforceable agreements. The Article looks into basic contract doctrines in order to specify a general conception of the contractual relation that can meet this desideratum and it sketches how, beginning with that conception, contract law unfolds a rich multiplicity of transaction-types. The resulting view is liberal but rights-based rather than teleological, and it proposes an alternative understanding of how the rules of contract law are power-conferring as well as duty-imposing.

* Professor of Law, University of Toronto.

Cite as: Peter Benson, Unity and Multiplicity in Contract Law: From General Principles to Transaction-Types, 20 Theoretical Inquiries L. 537 (2019).

Published Online: 2019-08-18
Published in Print: 2019-07-26

© 2019 by Theoretical Inquiries in Law

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