Language Use and Intention

Richard Ekins

in The Nature of Legislative Intent

Published in print October 2012 | ISBN: 9780199646999
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191741159 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Legal Philosophy

Language Use and Intention

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This chapter explores the nature of language use and its implications for theories of legislating. It outlines and critiques the understanding of language that is taken to ground theories, considered in Chapter 4, that the legislature is incapable of using language for reasons. The centrality of intention in the use and understanding of language sharply undermines those theories. The chapter argues that the semantic content of any utterance underdetermines what its author intends to mean and that one understands language use by inferring what the relevant agent intended to convey. Finally, it argues that this general truth extends to the use of language to legislate, for it would be unreasonable for the legislature to enact only the semantic content of the texts it promulgates.

Keywords: language; intention; semantics; pragmatics; context; legislating; statutory interpretation

Chapter.  15574 words. 

Subjects: Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law

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