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Analogical Reasoning as Translation: The Pragmatics of Transitivity

30 Pages Posted: 11 Dec 2006  

Jonathan Yovel

NYU School of Law - Straus Institute for the Advanced Study of Law and Justice; University of Haifa - Faculty of Law; Yale Law School


This paper attempts to examine the underlying structure of analogical reasoning in decision making. The immediate (but not exclusive) context is the form of reasoning commonly seen as prevalent in common-law judicial decision making. Following Wittgenstein and Strawson the paper identifies the problem of the contingency of transitivity of analogical relations as a serious impediment to analogical reasoning. It then proceeds to offer a method of translation that delineates the borders of contingency and analyticity of transitivity in such cases, as well as proposes how these borders may be manipulated. The theoretical insight is to treat analogical relations anaphorically, as "propredicates". Accordingly, the translation involves constructive functional transformation from the form of meaning as continuum to the form of meaning as n-chotomies. Greimasian semiotics are then critically applied to examine in what sense "translation" - in this specific sense - can count as the "deep structure" of analogical/transitive reasoning, and what such a claim entails in terms of linguistic ideology. Although the model of translation is formal it is not acontextual, and must be supplemented by importation of constitutive practical considerations (i.e. norms) from concrete decision-making contexts. As such this is a case study of the pragmatic functions of formalization - a conception that may seem alien to some. When determining which states-of-affairs are deemed compatible the formal model is shown to serve as a framework to what eventually becomes a pragmatic device.

Keywords: legal theory, legal reasoning, analogy, analogical reasoning, transitivity, decision-making, quantitative logic, Strawson, Greimas, Wittgenstein

Suggested Citation

Yovel, Jonathan, Analogical Reasoning as Translation: The Pragmatics of Transitivity. International Journal for the Semiotics of Law, Vol. 13, pp. 1-27, 2000. Available at SSRN:

Jonathan Yovel (Contact Author)

NYU School of Law - Straus Institute for the Advanced Study of Law and Justice ( email )

New York
United States

University of Haifa - Faculty of Law ( email )

Mount Carmel
Haifa, 31905

Yale Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 208215
New Haven, CT 06520-8215
United States
203.435.5911 (Phone)

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