Detachment and Deontic Language in Law

54 Pages Posted: 31 Oct 2017 Last revised: 27 Nov 2018

See all articles by Rob Mullins

Rob Mullins

The University of Queensland - T.C. Beirne School of Law

Date Written: October 19, 2017


Some legal philosophers regard the use of deontic language to describe the law as philosophically significant. Joseph Raz argues that it gives rise to ‘the problem of normativity of law’. He develops an account of what he calls ‘detached’ legal statements to resolve the problem. Unfortunately, Raz’s account is difficult to reconcile with the orthodox semantics of deontic language. The article offers a revised account of the distinction between committed and detached legal statements. It argues that deontic statements carry a Gricean generalized conversational implicature to the effect that the rules in question reflect the speaker’s own commitments. Detached legal statements are made when this implicature is either explicitly cancelled or when the conversational context is sufficient to defeat the implicature. I conclude by offering some tentative reflections on the theoretical significance of deontic language in the law.

Keywords: Detached Legal Statements, Deontic Statements, Legal 'Ought'

Suggested Citation

Mullins, Rob, Detachment and Deontic Language in Law (October 19, 2017). Law and Philosophy (2017) 37(4), pp. 351-384. Available at SSRN:

Rob Mullins (Contact Author)

The University of Queensland - T.C. Beirne School of Law ( email )

The University of Queensland
St Lucia
4072 Brisbane, Queensland 4072

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