Legal Phenomena, Knowledge, and Theory: A Cautionary Tale of Hedgehogs and Foxes

88 Pages Posted: 6 Mar 2002

Date Written: 2002


This article analyzes the susceptibility of areas of legal regulation to being organized or explained by top-down deductive theories of general applicability. It hypothesizes that at least three variables determine in part the likely relevance of general theories to sets of legal phenomena, ambiguity (gaps in the law), unpredictability (computational intractability), and the comparative need for specialized and common sense reasoning. We hypothesize that as ambiguity, unpredictability, and the utility of common sense reasoning go up, the amenability of a set of legal phenomena to general theoretical approaches decreases. We thus predict that the meaning of negligence will be resistant to theoretical approaches, both economic and corrective justice, and that the nature of antitrust law will embrace the microeconomic approach. We test these predictions in various ways and find support for both of them.

Suggested Citation

Allen, Ronald Jay and Rosenberg, Ross M., Legal Phenomena, Knowledge, and Theory: A Cautionary Tale of Hedgehogs and Foxes (2002). Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 02-3. Available at SSRN: or

Ronald Jay Allen (Contact Author)

Northwestern University Law School ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
312-503-8372 (Phone)
312-503-2035 (Fax)

Ross M. Rosenberg

Sullivan & Cromwell - New York Headquarters ( email )

125 Broad Street
New York, NY 10004-2400
United States
(212) 558-4000 (Phone)
(212) 558-3588 (Fax)

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