The Fictional Protagonist of Modern Liability Law: A History of the Origins of the Reasonable Man


  • Simon van Oort Utrecht University College


This thesis explores the origins of the reasonable man, an important concept in Anglo-saxon liability law, by zooming in on its conception in the mid-19th century and its preconceptions in antiquity. As this has not been done before, the goal of this thesis is to explain and analyze these origins in order to enlarge our understanding of this important development, and hitherto terra incognita, in modern legal history. Within this study, the term ‘reasonable man’ is traced back in time through a study of both primary and secondary sources, including case-law, works of (legal) philosophy and correspondences.


Louis Menand, The Metaphysical Club, (New York

City: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2001), 343. This

quote served as the inspiration for the title.

Peter Watson, Ideas: A History of Thought and

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HarperCollins, 2005), 690.

Menand, The Metaphysical Club, 345.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., The Common Law,

(London: MacMillan, 1968), 63-103.

Mark DeWolfe Howe, The Pollock-Holmes Letters:

Correspondence of Sir Frederick Pollock and Mr.

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[1850] 60 Mass. 292 (SJC).

G. Edward White, Tort Law in America: An

Intellectual History, (New York City: Oxford

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P.A. Landon, Pollock's Law of Torts: A Treatise on the

Principles of Obligations Arising from Civil Wrongs

in the Common Law, (London: Stevens & Sons,

, 21.

132 ER 490 (CP), 493.

[1856] 11 Ex Ch 781.

Ibid., 783.

Ibid., 784.

W.J. Zwalve, "Het toeschouwersrisico. " In De

Maatman in het Burgerlijk Recht (BWKJ 24),

(Deventer: Kluwer, 2008), 17.

Peter Stein, Roman Law in European History, (New

York City: Cambridge University Press, 1999),


Ibid., 124.

See e.g. Hall v Brooklands Auto-Racing Club [1933]

KB 205 (EWHC).

Palmer, Colton and Kramer, A History of the Modern

World since 1815, (New York City: McGraw-Hill,

, 504.

Anna Wierzbicka, English: Meaning and Culture,

(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 109.

Dirk Heirbaut, Privaatrechtsgeschiedenis van de

Romeinen tot heden, (Gent: Academia Press, 2013),

Reinhard Zimmermann, The Law of Obligations:

Roman Foundations of the Civilian Tradition, (Cape

Town: Juta, 1990), 1008.

T. Wallinga, "Opzet, Schuld en Toeval." In De

Digesten en de receptie van het Romeinse recht in het

Nederlandse privaatrecht, (Nijmegen: Ars Aequi,

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David Daube, Roman Law: Linguistic, Social and

Philosophical Aspects, (Edinburgh: Edinburgh

University Press, 1969), 151.

DeWolfe Howe, The Pollock-Holmes Letters, 13-14.

Aristotle, The complete works of Aristotle: the revised

Oxford translation, (Princeton: Princeton University

Press, 1984), 4984.

Jonathan Barnes, The Cambridge Companion to

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, 280-281.






Economics & Social Sciences