Friedrich Waismann and the Distinctive Logic of Legal Language

19 Pages Posted: 23 Mar 2017

See all articles by Frederick Schauer

Frederick Schauer

University of Virginia School of Law

Date Written: March 22, 2017


This paper was written as a keynote address for a University of Vienna/Vienna Circle conference on Friedrich Waismann’s Legacy and Presence. Although Waismann’s contributions to legal theory are best known through H.L.A. Hart’s use of Waismann’s idea of open texture, many of Waismann’s writings also offer the suggestion that different linguistic domains have their own distinctive grammars and structures in addition to their own semantics. In “Language Strata,” in “Analytic-Synthetic,” in “The Linguistic Technique,” and elsewhere, Waismann thus gave us some of the resources to consider the extent, if at all, that legal language should be understood as a technical language with domain-specific structure, including a structure of meaning that emerges out of law’s own goals and methods. More particularly, the paper explores the possibility that law’s pervasive (even if not strictly necessary) defeasibility infuses the meaning not only of specific legal words, but of all of legal language.

Suggested Citation

Schauer, Frederick, Friedrich Waismann and the Distinctive Logic of Legal Language (March 22, 2017). Available at SSRN: or

Frederick Schauer (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States
434-924-6777 (Phone)

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