Faculty Book Talk: Charles Fried’s Contract as Promise: A Theory of Contractual Obligation, 2d ed., Wednesday, September 23 at noon

The Harvard Law School Library staff invites you to attend a book talk and panel discussion in celebration of the recent release of the Second Edition of Professor Charles Fried’s Contract as Promise:  A Theory of Contractual Obligation (Oxford University Press).

Wednesday, September 23, 2015, 12:00 noon.
Harvard Law School, Room WCC 2036 Milstein East C (Directions).
Sponsored by the Harvard Law School Library.
Lunch will be served.

Educated at Princeton, Oxford and Columbia Law School, Charles Fried, the Beneficial Professor of Law, has been teaching at Harvard Law School since 1961. He was Solicitor General of the United States, 1985-89, and an Associate Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, 1995-99. His scholarly and teaching interests have been moved by the connection between normative theory and the concrete institutions of public and private law. During his career at Harvard he has taught Criminal Law, Commercial Law, Roman Law, Torts, Contracts, Labor Law, Constitutional Law and Federal Courts, Appellate and Supreme Court Advocacy. The author of many books and articles, including the first edition of Contract as Promise published in 1980.

In recent years Fried has taught Constitutional Law and Contracts. During his time as a teacher he has also argued a number of major cases in state and federal courts, most notably Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, in which the Supreme Court established the standards for the use of expert and scientific evidence in federal courts.



“Contract as Promise is a study of the philosophical foundations of contract law in which Professor Fried effectively answers some of the most common assumptions about contract law and strongly proposes a moral basis for it while defending the classical theory of contract. This book provides two purposes regarding the complex legal institution of the contract. The first is the theoretical purpose to demonstrate how contract law can be traced to and is determined by a small number of basic moral principles. At the theory level the author shows that contract law does have an underlying, and unifying structure. The second is a pedagogic purpose to provide for students the underlying structure of contract law. At this level of doctrinal exposition the author shows that structure can be referred to moral principles. Together the two purposes support each other in an effective and comprehensive study of contract law.

This second edition retains the original text, and includes a new Preface. It also includes a substantial new essay entitled Contract as Promise in the Light of Subsequent Scholarship—Especially Law and Economics which serves as a retrospective of the work accomplished in the last thirty years, while responding to present and future work in the field.” — Oxford University Press 

Book talk panelists include:

Einer Elhauge




Einer Elhauge, Carroll and Milton Petrie Professor of Law.


Allen Ferrell




Allen Ferrell, Harvey Greenfield Professor of Securities Law


Randall Kennedy




Randall Kennedy, Michael R. Klein Professor of Law.


Florencia Marotta-Wurgler




Florencia Marotta-Wurgler, Robert Braucher Visiting Professor of Law


Ruth Okediji




Ruth Okediji, Hieken Visiting Professor in Patent Law


Recent Reviews

“Contract as Promise is a landmark in legal thought. Now in its Second Edition, this classic text remains as engaging today as when first published; and a new postscript deftly connects the book’s enduring themes to subsequent developments in law and legal theory.” — Daniel Markovits, Guido Calabresi Professor of Law, Yale Law School 

“Contract as Promise is a classic in contracts and legal philosophy. In his unburdened, elegant style, Fried works through the implications of thinking of contract law as the legal expression of the moral principles of promissory obligation. Both introductory students and seasoned scholars will be very well-served by its reissue and Fried’s thoughtful and stimulating re-situating of the work thirty years on.” — Seana Valentine Shiffrin, Professor of Philosophy, and Pete Kameron Professor of Law and Social Justice, UCLA

“A “readable and provocative book on the philosophical foundations of contract law . . . Fried’s argument makes a powerful case for the view that the law of contracts has a recognizable and distinctive intellectual integrity of its own . . . Students will find Fried’s unifying hypothesis a helpful aid.” — Yale Law Review

“Fried calls into question some of the most deeply held assumptions of contract law [and] argues powerfully for a moral basis of contract. . . Fried’s book offers a sensitive and subtle investigation, a richly suggestive vision of contract theory. The study and systematic critical discussion of such theory is of the first importance, for it is a question of nothing less than the relationship between law and morals.” — New York Law Journal

“Charles Fried attempts to restate and defend a liberal theory of contract . . . In setting out to defend what is, albeit in modified form, the classical theory of contract, Professor Fried is conscious that he is confronting a considerable weight of modern contract scholarship . . . This Fried confronts or finesses with elegance; grace, and skill.” — Harvard Law Review 

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