Hohfeld on Legal Language

Forthcoming in The Legacy of Wesley Hohfeld: Edited Major Works, Select Personal Papers, and Original Commentaries (Shyam Balganesh, Ted Sichelman & Henry Smith eds., Cambridge University Press, 2018 Forthcoming)

23 Pages Posted: 11 Jun 2018

See all articles by Frederick Schauer

Frederick Schauer

University of Virginia School of Law

Date Written: May 23, 2018

Abstract

Wesley Newcomb Hohfeld is well-known for his view that certain terms – “right,” most prominently – do not have a single referent, but may instead encompass a multiplicity of different relationships. And for Hohfeld, distinguishing among these relationships was essential for clear thinking. But an intriguing aspect of Hohfeld’s thought relates to his diagnosis of the cause of the problem he influentially identified. The widely accepted explanation is that Hohfeld believed that lawyers had treated a single word as necessarily having only a single meaning, and as a result, to use contemporary terminology, had “reified” the idea of a right. But another possibility, at times explicit and more often implicit in Hohfeld’s writings, is that the confusion Hohfeld identified is caused by a failure to distinguish specialized (or technical) legal usage, as exemplified in reported cases, and ordinary non-legal usage. Hohfeld’s legacy therefore includes a set of valuable insights on the enduring problem of legal language as technical language, and the relationship between legal language as technical language and legal language as ordinary language.

Suggested Citation

Schauer, Frederick, Hohfeld on Legal Language (May 23, 2018). Forthcoming in The Legacy of Wesley Hohfeld: Edited Major Works, Select Personal Papers, and Original Commentaries (Shyam Balganesh, Ted Sichelman & Henry Smith eds., Cambridge University Press, 2018 Forthcoming). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3183858

Frederick Schauer (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

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

Register to save articles to
your library

Register

Paper statistics

Downloads
154
Abstract Views
488
rank
191,480
PlumX Metrics