Language … The owl of Minerva
In Guest & Anor v Guest  UKSC 27 (19 October 2022) the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom handed down an interesting decision involving proprietary estoppel and the fashioning of appropriate relief. In a judgment commencing “One day my son, all this will be yours”, Lord Leggatt (with whom Lord Stephens agreed) said:
243. …. In his judgment in Thorner v Major, at para 8, Lord Hoffmann expressed the backwards-looking nature of the assessment more poetically with a metaphor drawn from the preface to Hegel’s Elements of the Philosophy of Right (1820):
“The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.”
244. Where the promise is revoked before it falls due to be performed, however, the owl of Minerva has not yet flown. In this situation, the court is not looking backwards from that moment and asking whether it would be unconscionable for the promise not to be kept or whether detriment can be avoided by a monetary award. In fashioning a remedy, the choice is between seeking to compensate the claimant’s reliance loss and giving effect or partial effect to a promise which has not yet fallen due to be performed. Evaluating the second of these alternatives necessarily requires the court to look forward into the future and guess what might happen. Any such assessment must in principle seek to take account of such “unspoken and ill-defined qualifications” as were implicit in the promise made and how they bear on what might happen in the future (or on what might have happened in the future in a counterfactual world in which the promise had not been revoked when it was). That may be a difficult and speculative exercise to attempt to undertake, potentially more so than quantifying the claimant’s reliance loss.
Oxford Reference says as follows as to the ‘Owl of Minerva’:
A traditional symbol of wisdom, most famously invoked in Hegel’s remark at the end of the Preface to the Philosophy of Right: ‘when philosophy paints its grey in grey, then has a shape of life grown old. The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the coming of the dusk.’ Hegel means that the kinds of self-conscious reflection making up philosophy can occur only when a way of life is sufficiently mature to be already passing, but the doctrine neglects the fact that self-consciousness and reflection co-exist with activity. For example, an active social and political movement will co-exist with reflection on the categories within which it frames its position.