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Holmes, Oliver Wendell, Jr. (1841–1935)

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. served on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court and was an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1902 to 1932. His most influential book was the landmark The Common Law (1881).

Contrary to the formalist legal doctrine popular at the time, which held that law consisted of eternal truths that, through logical and deductive reasoning, yielded certain rules, Holmes asserted that law relied on fluid rules that were contingent on the needs and demands of the social environment. He famously declared that, “The life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience” (1963: 4). Holmes's key argument was that law emerges and develops according to the considerations of what is expedient for the community. Although Holmes regarded ...

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