Against the Spirit of the Age: The Rationale of Relational Contracts

Peter Goodrich

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


In his long-awaited treatise on the relational theory of contracting, David Campbell provides a rigorous, systematic and consistently lucid account of mutual recognition as the basis of all volitional obligations. Fiercely negotiated economic transactions find their social expression in legally enforceable agreements that are to be followed scrupulously to the letter both by the parties and by the courts. This is because, in his view, mutual recognition, the co-operative economic enterprise, is memorialised in the legal instrument. Using the example of the emergent doctrine of good faith, this article argues that while such literalism proffers an admirably bright line for enforcement of agreements, it reduces the import and value of the relational theory of contract as an ethical and political accounting of market transactions. Literalism here is problematic not simply because of the inherent historicity and social diversity of language, but because in concepts such as good faith or reasonable interpretation, the purpose of the inscribed transaction has to be evaluated not only in terms of the plurality of the contract's clauses, but also with a view to the overall shared intent of the exchange. For the relational theory of contract to have the impact that it merits, it needs to strengthen its account of how mutual recognition and the ethical and political dimensions of relationship best gain expression in the good-faith interpretation of the proximities manifest in agreement.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)848-864
Number of pages17
JournalOxford Journal of Legal Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2023


  • good faith
  • mutual recognition
  • relational contracts

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Law


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