December 5, 2023


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Legal Theory Lexicon: The Law Is A Seamless Web


F.W. Maitland, the renowned authorized historian wrote, “Such is the unity of all background that any one particular who endeavors to explain to a piece of it will have to come to feel that his 1st sentence tears a seamless website.”  (A Prologue to a Heritage of English Regulation, fourteen L. Qtrly Rev. 13 (1898))  Maitland did not basically say that the “legislation is a seamless website,” but he is generally specified credit score for the concept that the legislation sorts some type of “organic and natural unity” or is characterised by pervasive, systematic, and robust interconnections.  The concept that legislation is seamless website is ambiguous–the aphorism expresses diverse strategies on diverse situations.  This put up in the Authorized Idea Lexicon series will explicate the seamless website metaphor and its a number of implications for authorized concept.

As usually, the Lexicon is in particular aimed at legislation students–in particular 1st-year legislation students–with an fascination in authorized concept.

The Seamless World wide web and the Interconnectedness of Authorized Doctrine 

A single concept expressed by the metaphor of the seamless website is the interconnectedness of authorized doctrine.  If the legislation is a seamless website, then the categorization of authorized doctrine into discrete fields (torts, home, contracts, and so forth) does not accurately capture the mother nature of the legislation.  A common case in point of this concept can be uncovered by inspecting the line involving torts and contracts.  It might be thought that there is some “seam” or dividing line that sharply separates these two doctrinal fields.  For case in point, we might feel that contracts is the legislation of voluntary transactions, while torts deals with involuntary (or unconsented-to) transactions.  Of study course, there is one thing to this concept.  Facial area-to-face bargaining resulting in a prepared and signed agreement is the paradigm of a deal and also represents a paradigmatically voluntary transaction.  Battery–an unconsented-to, unsafe touching–represents both a clear occasion of tort legislation and evidently involuntary transaction.

But the thesis that the legislation is a seamless website is not inconsistent with there staying paradigm cases of conceptually distinct doctrinal fields.  Fairly, the concept is that these paradigm cases mix into one particular a further by way of a series of compact and barely noticeable measures–so that there is no sharp boundary, no “seam,” involving tort and deal.  For case in point, 1st year legislation students swiftly learn that not all of deal legislation consists of agreement or cut price.  “Quasi-deal” and reliance-primarily based liability entail transactions that are involuntary or at least not totally voluntary, and this cluster of doctrine is neither evidently tort  nor evidently deal.  A single interpretation of the seamless website metaphor is that it asserts that the legislation is usually or just about usually like that–the arranging rules of several principles fade steadily into one particular a further, and consequently, there are no sharp boundaries in the website of the legislation. 

We might say that this 1st interpretation of the seamless website metaphor is ontological: “legislation is a seamless website” could be an assertion about the mother nature of doctrinal categories–they are interconnected and not isolated.  On the ontological interpretation, the legislation is a seamless website of authorized doctrines–principles, specifications, and rules.

Epistemological Holism 

A second interpretation of the seamless website metaphor is “epistemological” somewhat than “ontological.”  What does that suggest?  By epistemological, I suggest that we might be conversing about our knowledge of the legislation somewhat than the legislation by itself.  Right here the concept might be that understanding or comprehending any piece of authorized doctrine needs knowledge of the bordering areas of legislation and knowledge of individuals areas needs knowledge of however more distant areas–so that a complete understanding of any one particular authorized rule needs knowledge of the legislation as a whole.

An case in point could assistance.  Suppose we are striving to understanding a rule with regards to consent in prison legislation.  Knowledge the authorized thought of consent could have to have us to go past prison legislation.  The prison legislation thought of consent could borrow from tort principles, deal principles, and so forth.  Furthermore, attaining knowledge of the prison legislation doctrine of consent could have to have us to have an understanding of the partnership involving the authority of the courts to form the prison legislation and the authority of legislatures to pass statutes that adjust prevalent-legislation doctrines.  Knowledge that partnership needs knowledge of the legislation of statutory interpretation (which is contained in viewpoints on numerous diverse statutes dealing with numerous distinct doctrinal areas) as effectively as constitutional legislation governing the separation of powers and the mother nature of judicial electrical power and legislative electrical power.  A single might feel that one particular could learn all the things one particular required to know in order to have an understanding of consent in the prison legislation thought of consent from prison legislation statutes and cases, but if the legislation is a seamless website, then knowledge from torts, contracts, constitutional legislation, and so forth could be demanded for a whole understanding.

On the epistemological interpretation, the seamless website is a website of belief or knowledge.

The Seamless World wide web of Healthy and Justification 

An additional use of the metaphor is uncovered in the perform of Ronald Dworkin.  In the Lexicon entry on Healthy and Justification, we explored Dworkin’s concept that judges determine cases in the way that best “suits” and “justifies the legislation.  Both equally “in good shape” and “justification” link to the concept that the legislation is seamless website.  So when a decide decides a “tough situation,” the judge’s selection will have to “in good shape” the existing authorized landscape.  It will have to be coherent with the cases, statutes, constitutional provisions, and so forth.  This prerequisite of in good shape is holistic.  That is, the selection will have to in good shape all of the legislation–not just the legislation that is immediately related to the situation at hand.  So a rule of deal legislation is improper if that rule would violate the constitution or authorize violation of a statutory prohibition.

Dworkin contends that authorized conclusions will have to in good shape the authorized landscape, but that is not the end of the make a difference.  There could be more than one particular ruling that would satisfy the criterion of in good shape.  Of case in point, an ambiguous statutory provisions could have more than one particular looking at that is steady with the precedents, statutes, and other authoritative authorized resources.  In that situation, Dworkin argues, the decide need to determine the situation in the way that coheres with the best justification for the legislation.  In other phrases, the decide need to request, “What is the best normative concept that can justify the legislation as whole?”  That normative concept is then utilized to information the judge’s selection in the specific situation.  Like the criterion of in good shape, the criterion of justification is holistic.  Though judges could, as a simple make a difference, request the justification for a specific region of authorized doctrine, in concept the issue is, “What justifies the whole of the legislation?”  This is a further perception in which the legislation is a seamless website–it is the whole website and not a specific strand that is the item of normative justification.

On the Dworkinian interpretation, the seamless website of the legislation is the item of the Herculean enterprise of generating the concept that best suits and justifies the legislation.


The phrase, “the legislation is a seamless website,” is one particular of individuals large strategies that students experience early in their legislation faculty working experience.  Nearly every legislation university student starts to feel thoughts like, “What we are doing in contracts is related to what we are doing in torts” or “It is all setting up to in good shape jointly in one particular large photograph.”  And quicker or afterwards, these thoughts will operate into the seamless website metaphor.  This entry in the Lexicon is created to give you the tools to feel about the aphorism in a nuanced and rigorous way.

Associated Authorized Idea Lexicon Entries

  • Authorized Idea Lexicon 032: Healthy and Justification
  • Authorized Idea Lexicon 033: Holism


  • Ronald Dworkin, Hard Situations, 88 Harv. L. Rev. 1057 (1975), reprinted in Ronald Dworkin,Taking Rights Severely (1978).
  • F.W. Maitland, A Prologue to a Heritage of English Regulation, fourteen L. Qtrly Rev. 13 (1898).
  • W. V. Quine & J. S. Ullian, The World wide web of Perception (McGraw Hill, second ed. 1978).

(This entry was very last revised on Could ten, 2020.)