A Particle of Freedom: Natural Law Thought and the Kantian Theory of Transfer by Contract

36 Pages Posted: 30 Jan 2013 Last revised: 9 Feb 2013

See all articles by Helge Dedek

Helge Dedek

McGill University - Faculty of Law

Date Written: July 31, 2012


Modern contract law theorists frequently invoke Kantian ideas to conceptualize contract as a form of immediate transfer. The Kantian theory of contract itself is eclectic: Kant makes use of the main conceptual building blocks of Natural Law (in particular Grotian) contract doctrine – promise and transfer. Yet Kant re-arranges and adapts them to his own epistemology and conceptual system. I submit that because of this connection, additional light can be shed on Kant’s theory of contract by placing it in the context of contemporary Natural Law discourse. One of the most outspoken critics of contract theory in the Grotian tradition was then famous (and now apocryphal) legal philosopher Theodor Schmalz. Schmalz faulted Natural Law thought for conceptualizing contract as transfer by fallaciously – “subreptively” – explaining the normative event of creating an obligation through the model of the empirical transfer of physical objects. Kant’s theory reads like a response to this critique: Kant avoids modelling contract on the transfer of property. Rather, he explains any transfer as contractual, brought about by a unified will.

Keywords: contract theory, transfer theory of contract, rights, natural law, Kant, Grotius

JEL Classification: K10, K11, K12, K40, K49

Suggested Citation

Dedek, Helge, A Particle of Freedom: Natural Law Thought and the Kantian Theory of Transfer by Contract (July 31, 2012). Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence, Vol. 25, No. 2, 2012, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2208659

Helge Dedek (Contact Author)

McGill University - Faculty of Law ( email )

3644 Peel Street
Montreal H3A 1W9, Quebec

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