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date: 17 January 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the history and use of maxims in legal traditions from several areas of the world. A comparison of legal maxims in Roman, Hindu, Jewish, and Islamic law shows that maxims function both as a basic tools for legal interpretation and as distillations of substantive legal principles applicable to many cases. Maxims are characterized by their unquestionable character, even though it is often easy to demonstrate contradictions between them. As a result, legal maxims seem linked to the recurrent desire for law to have a moral foundation. Although maxims have lost their purchase in most contemporary jurisprudence and legal practice, categories such as “canons of construction,” “legal principles,” and “super precedents” all show similarities to the brief and limited collections of maxims in older legal traditions. The search for core ideas underlying the law thus continues under different names.

Keywords: maxims, principles, Hindu law, Jewish law, Islamic law, Roman law, interpretation, legal history, comparison, morality

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