Law and Philosophy

, Volume 37, Issue 5, pp 523–547 | Cite as

The Normative Foundations of Defamatory Meaning

  • Adam SlavnyEmail author
Open Access


This paper assesses normative arguments regarding four views about defamatory meaning. The moralised view holds that a statement about a person is defamatory if and only if we ought to think less of that person if the statement is true. The nonmoralised view holds that a statement is defamatory if and only if people in fact think less of the subject on hearing the statement. A third - the dual view - can be split into two versions. The first version holds that a statement is defamatory if and only if it satisfies either the moralised or non-moralised views. The second version holds that statements satisfying either view can be defamatory, but they ought to be considered fundamentally different forms of personal defamation, with different remedies, defences and conditions of liability attached. Both the moralised and non-moralised views are rejected because they fail to acknowledge instrumental and intrinsic reputational value respectively. The first version of the dual view is rejected because it compromises the expressive value of defamation, implausibly suggests that truth should be a general defence and fails to recognise that different objections apply to the moralised and nonmoralised views. The upshot is that we ought to accept the second version of the dual view.


Reputational value Scanlon Tort theory Defamation 



Thank you to audiences at the MANCEPT workshop on Dangerous Speech, the Oxford Obligations Discussion Group and the Centre for Ethics law and Public Affairs at Warwick for their useful feedback. Thanks also to Chris Mills and two anonymous referees for Law and Philosophy.

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2017

Open AccessThis article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made.

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Warwick School of LawCoventryUK

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