Law and Conversational Implicatures



This essay investigates the applicability of Grice’s theory of conversational implicatures to legal interpretation, in order to highlight some of its characteristics. After introducing the notions of language and discourse, and briefly explaining the most salient aspects of Grice’s theory, I will analyse the interpretation of two types of legal acts; authoritative legal acts and acts of private autonomy. Regarding the first class, exemplified by statutes, I will argue against the applicability of Gricean theory due to the conflictual behaviour of the addressees and, above all, to the insurmountable indeterminacy of the contextual elements. As far as acts of private autonomy are concerned, exemplified by contracts, I will argue that the cooperative principle is applicable, at least in those legal systems that include the principle of bona fides among the interpretative regulations of such acts.


Bona fides Context Discourse Grice Legal interpretation 


  1. 1.
    Atlas, J.D. 2005. Logic, meaning and conversation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Atlas, J.D., and S.C. Levinson. 1981. It-clefts, informativeness, and logical form: Radical pragmatics. In Radical pragmatics, ed. P. Cole, 1–61. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Bach, K. 1994. Conversational implicature. Mind and Language 9: 124–162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Bach, K. 1997. The semantic-pragmatic distinction: What it is and why it matters. Accessed 15 September 2009.
  5. 5.
    Bach, K. 1999. The myth of conventional implicature. Linguistics and Philosophy 22: 327–366.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 6.
    Bach, K. 2006. The top 10 misconceptions about implicature. In Festschrift for larry horn, ed. B. Birner, and G.A. Ward. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Bach, K. 2006. Impliciture vs. explicature: What’s the difference? Accessed 15 September 2009.
  8. 8.
    Carston, R. 2002. Linguistic meaning, communicated meaning and cognitive pragmatics. Mind and Language 17: 127–148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. 9.
    Carston, R. 2004. Truth-conditional content and conversational implicature. In The semantic/pragmatics distinction, ed. C. Bianchi, 18–48. Stanford, CA: Center for the Study of Language and Information.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Crystal, D. 1987. The Cambridge encyclopedia of the english language. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (CUP).Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Frade, C. 2002. The legal cooperative principle: An essay on the cooperative nature of contractual transactions. International Journal for the Semiotics of Law 15: 337–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 12.
    Gazdar, G. 1979. Pragmatics, implicature, presupposition and logical form. Orlando, FL and London: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Grice, P.H. 1961. The causal theory of perception. Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 25(Suppl.): 121–152.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Grice, P.H. 1967. Logic and conversation. Reprinted in Grice, P.H. 1989. Studies in the Way of Word, 22–40. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Grice, P.H. 1989. Further notes on logic and conversation. In Grice, P.H. 1989. Studies in the Way of Word, 41–57. Cambridge MA and London: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Guastini, R. 1996. Fragments of a theory of legal sources. Ratio Juris 9: 364–386.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Hart, H.L.A. 1961. The concept of law. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Hawkins, J. 1991. On (in)definite articles: Implicatures and (un)grammaticality prediction. Journal of Linguistics 27: 405–442.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. 19.
    Jori, M. 1995. Definizioni giuridiche e pragmatica. In Analisi e diritto 1995, ed. P. Comanducci, and R. Guastini, 109–144. Turin: Giappichelli.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Kaplan, D. 1978. On the logic of demonstratives. Journal of Philosophical Logic 8: 81–98.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Ladegaard, H.J. 2009. Pragmatic cooperation revisited: Resistance and non-cooperation as a discursive strategy in asymmetrical discourse. Journal of Pragmatics 41: 649–666.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. 22.
    Levinson, S.C. 1983. Pragmatics. Cambridge: CUP.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    Levinson, S.C. 2000. Presumptive meaning. Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    Mantovani, D. 2008. Lingua e diritto. In Il linguaggio giuridico. Prospettive interdisciplinari, ed. G. Garzone, and F. Santulli, 17–56. Milan: Giuffrè.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Marmor, A. 2008. The pragmatics of legal language. Ratio Juris 21: 423–452.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 26.
    Recanati, F. 2004. Literal meaning. Cambridge: CUP.Google Scholar
  27. 27.
    Ross, A. 1968. Directives and norms. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  28. 28.
    Rysiew, P. 2007. Beyond words: Communication, truthfulness, and understanding. Episteme 4: 285–304.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. 29.
    de Saussure, F. 1916. Cours de linguistique générale. Lausanne and Paris: Payot.Google Scholar
  30. 30.
    Schiffer, S.R. 1972. Meaning. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  31. 31.
    Searle, J.R. 1979. Expression and meaning. Cambridge: CUP.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. 32.
    Searle, J.R. 1980. The background of meaning. In Speech act theory and pragmatics, ed. M. Bierwisch, F. Kiefer, and J.R. Searle, 221–232. Dordrecht, Boston, MA and London: D. Reidel.Google Scholar
  33. 33.
    Sperber, D., and D. Wilson. 1981. Irony and the use-mention distinction. In Radical pragmatics, ed. P. Cole, 295–318. New York: Academic Press.Google Scholar
  34. 34.
    Sperber, D., and D. Wilson. 1997. Irony and relevance: a reply to Drs Seto, Hamamoto and Yamanashi. In Relevance theory: Applications and implications, ed. R. Carston, and S. Uccida, 283–293. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
  35. 35.
    Strawson, P.F. 1973. Austin and “locutionary meaning”. In Essays on J.L. Austin, ed. I. Berlin, et al., 46–68. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar
  36. 36.
    Thomas, J. 1998. Cooperative principle. In Concise encyclopedia of pragmatics, ed. J. Mey, 176–179. Elsevier: Amsterdam.Google Scholar
  37. 37.
    von Wright, G.H. 1963. Norm and action. A logical enquiry. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  38. 38.
    Yamanashi, M. 1997. Some issues in the treatment of irony and related tropes. In Relevance theory: Applications and implications, ed. R. Carston, and S. Uccida, 271–282. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.dipartimento Cesare BeccariaResearcher in Legal Philosophy, Università degli Studi di MilanoMilanItaly

Personalised recommendations