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The Path of the Law   By: (1841-1935)

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In "The Path of the Law," Oliver Wendell Holmes pioneers a thought-provoking exploration of the relationship between law and morality. As a prominent legal philosopher and Supreme Court Justice, Holmes delves into the intricate workings of the legal system, unraveling its underlying principles and shedding light on its true purpose.

One of the key ideas that Holmes explores is the separation of law from personal values and beliefs. He argues that law should not be conflated with morality, asserting that they are distinct entities. Holmes emphasizes the importance of an objective and neutral legal system, highlighting that judges must interpret and apply the law without letting their personal opinions sway their decisions. This separation serves to ensure fairness and equality under the law, ultimately contributing to a stable and just society.

Throughout the book, Holmes dissects various legal theories and schools of thought, challenging and critiquing their fundamental premises. He delves into the historical development of law, unveiling the evolution of legal principles and the impact of societal changes on its interpretation. Holmes's exploration prompts readers to reevaluate their own perceptions of law, prompting them to question the motivations and justifications behind legal decisions.

Moreover, Holmes delves into the utilitarian aspect of law, arguing that its primary goal is to promote social welfare and serve the greater good. He contends that legal decisions should be based on the consequences they produce rather than on moral reasoning alone. This concept introduces a pragmatic and real-world perspective to legal analysis, emphasizing the significance of practical outcomes over abstract notions of right or wrong.

Although written over a century ago, Holmes's ideas in "The Path of the Law" remain relevant and applicable to contemporary legal discourse. His meticulous analysis of law's objective nature, separation from morality, and utilitarian foundations provides valuable insights to legal professionals, scholars, and readers interested in the complexities of the legal world.

Overall, "The Path of the Law" is a seminal work that challenges conventional thinking, prompting readers to critically examine the role of law in society. Holmes's lucid and thought-provoking arguments invite readers to embark on an intellectual journey, exploring the intricate connection between law, morality, and societal well-being.

First Page:


by Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

10 HARVARD LAW REVIEW 457 (1897)

When we study law we are not studying a mystery but a well known profession. We are studying what we shall want in order to appear before judges, or to advise people in such a way as to keep them out of court. The reason why it is a profession, why people will pay lawyers to argue for them or to advise them, is that in societies like ours the command of the public force is intrusted to the judges in certain cases, and the whole power of the state will be put forth, if necessary, to carry out their judgments and decrees. People want to know under what circumstances and how far they will run the risk of coming against what is so much stronger than themselves, and hence it becomes a business to find out when this danger is to be feared. The object of our study, then, is prediction, the prediction of the incidence of the public force through the instrumentality of the courts.

The means of the study are a body of reports, of treatises, and of statutes, in this country and in England, extending back for six hundred years, and now increasing annually by hundreds. In these sibylline leaves are gathered the scattered prophecies of the past upon the cases in which the axe will fall. These are what properly have been called the oracles of the law... Continue reading book >>

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