Incompletely Theorized Agreements

40 Pages Posted: 5 Jul 2017

See all articles by Cass R. Sunstein

Cass R. Sunstein

Harvard Law School; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: 1995


Well-functioning legal systems often tend to adopt a special strategy for producing agreement amidst pluralism. Participants in legal controversies try to produce incompletely theorized agreements on particular outcomes. They agree on the result and on relatively narrow or low-level explanations for it. They need not agree on fundamental principle. They do not offer larger or more abstract explanations than are necessary to decide the case. When they disagree on an abstraction, they move to a level of greater particularity. The distinctive feature of this account is that it emphasizes agreement on (relative) particulars rather than on (relative) abstractions. This is an important source of social stability and an important way for diverse people to demonstrate mutual respect, in law especially but also in liberal democracy as a whole.

Suggested Citation

Sunstein, Cass R., Incompletely Theorized Agreements (1995). Harvard Law Review, Vol. 108, No. 7, p. 1733, 1995, Available at SSRN:

Cass R. Sunstein (Contact Author)

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Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

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