Normativity in Language and Law

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


Colleges, School and Institutes


This paper develops an account of the meaning and use of various types
of legal claims, and uses this account to inform debates about the nature and
normativity of law. The account draws on a more general framework for implementing a contextualist semantics and pragmatics, called Discourse Contextualism (Silk 2016). The aim of Discourse Contextualism is to derive the
apparent normativity of claims of law from a particular contextualist interpretation of a standard semantics for modals, along with general principles of interpretation and conversation. Though the semantics is descriptivist, I argue
that it avoids Dworkin’s influential criticism of so-called “semantic theories of
law,” and elucidates the nature of “theoretical disagreements” about the criteria
of legal validity. The account sheds light on the important social, interpersonal
role of normative uses of language in legal discourse. It also gives precise expression to Hart’s and Raz’s intuitive distinctions among types of legal claims
(internal/external, committed/detached), while giving them a uniform type of
analysis. The proposed semantics and pragmatics of legal claims provides a
fruitful framework for further (meta)normative theorizing about the nature
and metaphysics of law, the relation between law and morality, and the apparent
practical character of legal language and judgment. Delineating these issues can lead to a more refined understanding of the space of overall theories.
Discourse Contextualism provides a solid linguistic basis for a broader account of legal discourse and practice.


Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDimensions of Normativity
Subtitle of host publicationNew Essays on Metaethics and Jurisprudence
EditorsDavid Plunkett, Scott Shapiro, Kevin Toh
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 3 Feb 2016