Undermining the Metaphysics of Contract
The processes through which the West learned to imagine individuals as rational, autonomous, calculating, and calculable date back to the sixteenth century. This process of imagining the individual culminated in conflicts that shaped contract law in the late nineteenth century. That vision of contract, and that imagination of the subject, in turn influenced the way Americans think about contract. However, the idealized image constructed by contract discourse was never an accurate description; it denied interdependence and highlighted autonomy at the same time. Classical theorists developed a general theory of contract that limited the scope of the contract idea and pushed relationships such as labor and employment and bailment and marriage out of the realm of contract. Contract theory banished gift promises from the kingdom of the enforceable and internalized the logic of speculation and insurance. The doctrine of consideration was rationalized to limit the ways in which obligations based on family and friendship, not on calculable economic interaction, could be recognized and integrated into legal duties.
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