Legal Theory Lexicon: Holism

Introduction Our topic this week is “holism,” more particularly the idea that theories of the law are (or “should be” or “can be”) holistic. Legal holism can be captured in a famous slogan, “The law is a seamless web,” and the contemporary legal theorist who is most associated with legal holism is Ronald Dworkin. And before we get on with it, a brief digression on the origins of the phrase. The idea of the law as a seamless web seems to be derived from a related idea–that history is a seamless web–found in the writiings of Frederic Maitland: "Such is the unity of all history that any one who endeavours to tell a piece of it must feel that his first sentence tears a seamless web." Frederic William Maitland, A Prologue to a History of English Law, 14 L.Querterly Rev. 13 (1898) (online version). Ideas about legal holism may also have been influenced by philosophical ideas about holism and in particular "meaning…

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