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What Does History Matter to Legal Epistemology?*

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AbstractThis paper argues that not only does history matter to legal epistemology, but also that understanding legal epistemology can yield a certain understanding of the past. The paper focuses on the common law practice of precedent and argues that there is no set of rules, principles, reasons or material facts that constitute the fixed or foundational content of past decisions (a ‘timeless what’ that determines its own relevance), but rather that what is taken by a judge resolving a particular dispute to be the content of past decisions depends on the active and creative construal of relevance engaged in by that judge. Precedents are better thought of as ‘thick resources with dynamic content’. Such content is constrained by a variety of stabilising practices, but never so constrained as to determine how it can be construed to be relevant. This image of law’s past may offer a general view of the past as something with which we can actively and creatively relate in the course of coping with the present.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Law, Queen Mary, University of


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