The Use of Knowledge and Moral Imagination in the Common Law

14 Pages Posted: 10 May 2019

See all articles by Allen Mendenhall

Allen Mendenhall

Faulkner University Thomas Goode Jones School of Law

Date Written: 2009


This article discusses the common law in terms of Hayekian epistemology. The common law is not just a historical and governmental system for resolving disputes through courts and case precedents, traceable to eleventh-century England and adopted by the United States and nearly half of the countries on earth. It is also a mode of preserving and transmitting knowledge about the human condition that develops out of ascertainable facts rather than abstract speculation. It is bottom-up, reflecting the embedded norms and values of the community as against executive command or legislative fiat. The common law system always contains within it much that has fallen out of current use, or that the living generation has forgotten. Because the common law is disembodied knowledge, a cultural transmission whose fractions, divisions, branches, and components are too vast to be wholly comprehended by a single human mind, it makes available in perpetuity seminal principles for future discovery and reanimation. It embeds values and morals in the textual record so they will not perish during modish ages, so they may live through dark times, and so they are able to be seen even when they are unseen. Over centuries in the common-law system, the combined intents and motivations of judges, as expressed in opinions, approximate enduring truths, notwithstanding any passing feelings that dominate a present mood or ethos. An incalculable number of distinct cases, each with their own array of facts and with affinities only superficially apparent to judges, ultimately add up to a unified system, to wit: the common law.

Keywords: Common Law, Epistemology, F.A. Hayek

Suggested Citation

Mendenhall, Allen, The Use of Knowledge and Moral Imagination in the Common Law (2009). Ohio North University Law Review, Vol. 45, 2009, Available at SSRN:

Allen Mendenhall (Contact Author)

Faulkner University Thomas Goode Jones School of Law ( email )

The Blackstone Center for Law & Liberty
Faulkner Law, 5345 Atlanta Highway
Montgomery, AL United States of America 36109
United States
334-386-7495 (Phone)
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