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On the Possibility of Non-literal Legislative Speech

  • Hrafn AsgeirssonEmail author
Chapter
Part of the Perspectives in Pragmatics, Philosophy & Psychology book series (PEPRPHPS, volume 10)

Abstract

The existing literature on indeterminacy in the law focuses mostly on the use of vague terms in legislation – terms the use of which makes the content of the relevant utterance to some extent indeterminate. As I aim to show, however, not only is the content of a legislative utterance often indeterminate, it is often indeterminate what the content of such an utterance is. In the second and third section of the chapter, I discuss in some detail the conditions for successful non-literal speech and address the question whether these conditions are satisfied in the legal context. I argue that due to the fact that legislative contexts generally contain little unequivocal information about legislative intent, interpreters are typically not warranted in taking the legislature to have intended to communicate something non-literal. In the fourth section, I consider what I take to be the strongest case against my argument: the wealth of actual cases in which the courts have taken the content of the law to be something other than its literal content, seemingly based on relatively straightforward inferences about the legislature’s communicative intentions. As I hope to show, however, very few of these cases are as straightforward as they appear to be. In the fifth, and final section, I argue that the argument from sections two and three has important consequences for the extent to which we should take the content of the law to be determinate. This has significant implications for the analysis of a number of important but controversial legal cases, which I discuss in some detail.

Keywords

Linguistic communication Non-literal speech Pragmatics Legal directives Legal interpretation Legislative intent Linguistic indeterminacy Legal indeterminacy 

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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of LawUniversity of SurreyGuildfordUK

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