Scholars have expended considerable energy in the effort to “discover” a normative theory of Contract. This Article surveys that effort and concludes that something fundamental about Contract has been missed and has frustrated the search from the outset. Succinctly, Contract doctrine resists the neat formulation theory requires.Theorists’ perspectives on Contract may be generalized as attempts to impute either deontology or consequentialism to the Contract law. Focusing largely on deontological constructions of Contract, this Article demonstrates the inconsistencies among the extant heuristics—promise, reliance, and transfer—and more importantly, the failure of any of those constructions to provide a coherent explanation of Contract doctrine. This failure reveals a more fundamental failure of Contract theory generally: Because doctrine is a matter of historical accident rather than “divine” inspiration, efforts to explain doctrine as an outgrowth of some coherent and fundamental purpose are necessarily unavailing, and ultimately obfuscatory.Contract defies reduction into certain normative terms because Contract doctrine is an amalgam of normative inclinations. Neither pure deontology nor pure consequentialism is the source of all Contract; both rather serve as poles at the ends of a Contract continuum. This Article concludes that the search for the grail—the theory of Contract—heretofore has been misdirected. Our effort to understand Contract in normative terms should begin anew, from the premises offered here.
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