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Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. was masterful both as a judge and as a phrasemaker. The study of law inevitably includes acquaintance with his description of the common law: "The life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience." A typical Holmes phrase, the description is striking, clear, memorable—and incapable of withstanding rigorous scrutiny.

Logic may not be all there is to law, but clearly logic is necessary to law. The justification for legal coercion is the proposition that like cases should be decided alike, and without logic we have no assurance that we can construct valid categories in terms of which to define like cases. How, then, can one understand what Holmes has written?

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