Why Legal Rules Are Not Speech Acts and What Follows from That
11 Pages Posted: 11 May 2013
Date Written: May 10, 2013
The speech-act approach to rules is commonplace in both Anglo-American and continental traditions of legal philosophy. Despite its pervasiveness, I argue in this paper that the approach is misguided and therefore intrinsically flawed.
My critique identifies how speech-act theory provides an inadequate theoretical framework for the analysis of written discourse, a case in point being legal text. Two main misconceptions resulting from this misguided approach are the fallacy of synchronicity and the fallacy of a-discursivity. The former consists of treating legal rules as if they were uttered and received in the same context, the latter consists of treating legal rules as relatively short, isolated sentences. Among the consequences of these fallacies are an excessive focus on the lawmakers’ semantic intentions and the neglect of the semantic and pragmatic complexity of rules as sets of utterances (discourses).
To redress these flaws, I propose treating legal rules as complex text acts. My paper presents the consequences of this revised approach for legal interpretation, supporting Joseph Raz's idea of minimal legislative intent.
Keywords: lawmaker’s intention, legal interpretation, rules, speech acts, writtenness in law, Raz's minimal legislative intention
JEL Classification: K10
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation