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The philosophy of legal language

An EU team examined the semantics and philosophy of legal statements. The work addressed ‘ought’ and ‘might’ statements and also metaphysics, metaethics and collective intentionality.


The EU-funded CAND (Collective attitudes and normative disagreement) project examined contextualist semantics about evaluative and normative language predicates in the context of legal statements. The project concerned what one should do, according to the law. The team explored the relation between four debates. They included the pragmatics of ‘ought’ and ‘might’ claims in philosophy of language, as well as the nature of legal statements in legal philosophy. The other debates concerned normative values in metaphysics and metaethics, and finally collective intentionality in the philosophy of mind and action. Two ideas formed the guiding principles of the research. First, that contextualist semantics is adequate for normative statements, and secondly that difficult cases can be explained using appropriate standards and collective intentionality. The research yielded 10 peer-reviewed journal articles, and a further 3 are under review. Three of the published articles were encyclopaedia entries. The project has also secured a book-publishing contract. Researchers conducted teaching visits to other institutions around the world, convened three research seminars and organised a conference. The project’s main result is a new theory (Hybrid Dispositionalism) that simultaneously accounts for evaluative, normative, and legal contents, and their expressive dimensions. Hybrid Dispositionalism is a conjecture about evaluative and normative discourse. It claims that evaluative and normative words denote response-dependent properties. These properties are essentially about us: they depend fundamentally on our nature and dispositions. Evaluative and normative attitudes are the kinds of attitudes that increase our probability of coordinating our actions towards common goals. The account assumes context-dependent semantics: evaluative terms are contextually sensitive to (possibly variable) value-standards. Hybrid Dispositionalism offers an answer to the problems of normative disagreement. The theory accounts for the action-guiding roles of evaluative and normative language, and explains the nature of its cognitive content.


Legal language, semantics, metaethics, CAND, collective attitudes, normative disagreement

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