Autonomy and Contracts

Research Handbook on The Philosophy of Contract Law (Mindy Chen-Wishart & Prince Saprai eds.), Forthcoming

21 Pages Posted: 6 Nov 2021 Last revised: 22 Jun 2022

Date Written: September 15, 2021


This chapter, written for the “Research Handbook on The Philosophy of Contract Law,” explores the role of contract in securing and promoting people’s autonomy. It discusses four distinct theses: (1) contract identifies the circumstances in which entitlements are validly transferred from person to person by their consent, so as to secure clear interpersonal boundaries; (2) contract offers an alternative practice to promise, which opens up the option of engaging with other people outside the framework of preexisting or ongoing relationships; (3) contract vindicates personal sovereignty by respecting parties’ ex ante intent to maximize the expected joint value of their agreements at the time they are made; (4) contract facilitates people’s ability to join forces in their respective plans into the future on terms of reciprocal respect for self-determination.

The main task of this chapter is to present these four theses in their own best light, rather than interrogate their possible pitfalls. While discussing these theses, the chapter briefly addresses their partial convergences as well as their relationships with Charles Fried’s and Joseph Raz’s accounts of contract. Even more importantly, it refines their distinctive voices along two dimensions: (1) their understandings of autonomy and how autonomy relates to independence, well-being, utility, community, and justice; and (2) their views as to what constitutes the core features of contract and contract law as well as what are the main animating principles that should guide contractual doctrines.

Suggested Citation

Dagan, Hanoch, Autonomy and Contracts (September 15, 2021). Research Handbook on The Philosophy of Contract Law (Mindy Chen-Wishart & Prince Saprai eds.), Forthcoming , Available at SSRN:

Hanoch Dagan (Contact Author)

Berkeley Law School ( email )

890 simon hall
215 Bancroft way
berkeley, CA 94720
United States

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