Quasi-Expressivism about Statements of Law: A Hartian Theory

In John Gardner, Leslie Green & Brian Leiter (eds.), Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Law, vol. 3. Oxford University Press. pp. 49-86 (2018)
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Speech and thought about what the law is commonly function in practical ways, to guide or assess behavior. These functions have often been seen as problematic for legal positivism in the tradition of H.L.A. Hart. One recent response is to advance an expressivist analysis of legal statements (Toh), which faces its own, familiar problems. This paper advances a rival, positivist-friendly account of legal statements which we call “quasi-expressivist”, explicitly modeled after Finlay’s metaethical theory of moral statements. This consists in a descriptivist, “rule-relational” semantics combined with a pragmatic account of the expressive and practical functions of legal discourse. We argue that this approach is at least as well-equipped as expressivism to explain the motivational and prescriptive features of “internal” legal statements, as well as a fundamental kind of legal disagreement, while being better positioned to account for various “external” uses of the same language. We develop this theory in a Hartian framework, and in the final part of the paper argue (particularly against Toh’s expressivist interpretation) that Hart’s own views in The Concept of Law are best reconstructed along such quasi-expressivist lines.

Author Profiles

Stephen Finlay
Australian Catholic University
David Plunkett
Dartmouth College


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