One of my favorite classes this past year was Contracts. Most people think of contracts as boring, tedious, and cumbersome (think iTunes user agreements.) Contracts law, however, is fascinating, and it helps to have an excellent professor who makes contracts his life (the other professor was great too, but he was more of a bankruptcy guy.) During winter quarter contracts class, I had a sudden realization: contracts is about the duality between human ambition and human fragility.
Contracts are about promises, and promises are about our desire to shape, plan, and predict the future. We make claims on things to come, and believe that it is in our power to deliver a perfect hand, or the bales of cotton, or a share in a company. Contracts law reflects our desire for control.
Yet we are finite beings, prone to mistakes or miscalculations. We are adrift in a sea of uncertainty; we can’t control what will happen in the next 5 minutes, much less the next 5 years. Circumstances spiral out of our grasp: the music hall burns down, the king gets sick, the price of rubber plummets. So we reach out to the other party, asking them to mitigate or to accept money damages. We try to protect ourselves and even claim that our promises have no legal force.
Contracts law is about anthropology. It’s about aspiration and error, designs and deviations, lofty human enterprise and inevitable human folly.