Cognition and Reason: Rethinking Kelsen in the Context of Contract and Business Law

34 Pages Posted: 25 Jul 2014 Last revised: 21 Dec 2014

Date Written: August 13, 2014


This is a reconsideration of Hans Kelsen’s Pure Theory of Law from the standpoint of a long-time business lawyer, contract theoretician, and Kant-influenced epistemologist. The essay (a) reconsiders the Pure Theory in the context of contract and business law (i) in light of how legal reasoning operates (something the Pure Theory accurately characterizes) in contract and business law (as, for example, in the classic consideration/promissory estoppel case, Allegheny College), and (ii) with a more faithful or more satisfying account than Kelsen provided of the kind of knowledge we obtain if we are going to think of contract and business law as a kind of science, whether descriptive or normative, under Kantian conceptions of cognition and reason; and (b) considers the practical and theoretical implications of the foregoing somewhat obscure and arcane distinction, if not for the contract and business lawyers who actually do the practicing, then at least for those who teach them. Facing reality before deciding on a course of action is often the hardest task for lawyers and their clients. I am thus skeptical of a legal “science” that seeks an ironically and paradoxically abstract positive law of contracts, an ideally coherent doctrine that exists somewhere “out there,” removed from its application to real world experience.

Keywords: Kelsen, Kant, contract law, business law, theoretical reason, practical reason, Cardozo, Allegheny College, promissory estoppel, consideration, cognition, imputation, modus ponens logic, 'is' and 'ought', categories, a priori, rules of inference

JEL Classification: K12, K20, K40

Suggested Citation

Lipshaw, Jeffrey M., Cognition and Reason: Rethinking Kelsen in the Context of Contract and Business Law (August 13, 2014). Suffolk University Law School Research Paper No. 14-18. Available at SSRN: or

Jeffrey M. Lipshaw (Contact Author)

Suffolk University Law School ( email )

120 Tremont Street
Boston, MA 02108-4977
United States


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