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Causal Legal Semantics: A Critical Assessment *

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A provision’s legal meaning is thought by many to be a function of its literal meaning. To explain the appearance that lawyers are arguing over a provision’s legal meaning and not just over which outcome would be more prudent or morally preferable, some legal literalists claim that a provision’s literal meaning may be causally, rather than conventionally, determined. I argue, first, that the proposed explanation is inconsistent with common intuitions about legal meaning; second, that explaining legal disagreement as a function of the causally determined meanings of moral terms requires, but lacks, a causal semantics which is clearly consistent with the scope of moral disagreement. Finally, I suggest that an element of the theory of language invoked by ‘causal’ legal literalists might be better deployed as part of an intentionalist account of legal practice.

Affiliations: 1: School of Law, National University of Ireland, Maynooth, brian.flanagan@nuim.ie

10.1163/174552412X628832
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/content/journals/10.1163/174552412x628832
2013-01-01
2016-12-10

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