JSI Seminar Series: Assistant Professor David Plunkett

18 March 2013

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Dworkin's Interpretivism, Metalinguistic Negotiations,and the Pragmatics of Legal Disputes

by David Plunkett Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Dartmouth College and Timothy Sundell Assistant Professor of Philosophy, University of Kentucky

In work ranging from Law's Empire to Justice For Hedgehogs, Ronald Dworkin argues that the concept LAW differs from ordinary concepts like CHAIR or BOOK. In particular, he argues that law is an instance of a special type of concept—an "interpretive concept"— whose meaning consists not in the type of extension-determining criteria that he thinks the meaning of ordinary concepts consists in, but rather depends on the normative facts that best justify the set of practices in which the concept is used. This result in turn plays a crucial role in Dworkin's more general arguments for legal antipositivism. Dworkin argues for his interpretivism about LAWby observing the seeming conceptual coherence of a distinctive type of legal dispute, what Plunkett and Sundell call "bedrock legal disputes", in which, roughly, parties persist in their disagreement even as it becomes clear that they have divergent views about the criteria for something's being counted as "a law" in the first place. If the relevant concepts were understood as ordinary non-interpretive concepts, Dworkin claims, then we would be forced to conclude that parties to such disputes in fact employed distinct concepts, and thus failed to disagree genuinely with one another. Plunkett and Sundell argue that this line of reasoning relies on a mistaken premise about the nature of disagreement, and they propose an alternative form of analysis of theoretical disagreements. They observe that genuine disagreements can be expressed via a range of linguistic mechanisms, many of which do not require that speakers literally assert and deny one and the same proposition. Plunkett and Sundell focus in particular on what they call "metalinguistic negotiations," disputes in which speakers do not mean the same things by their words and do not employ the same concepts, but rather negotiate how words should be used and which among a set of competing concepts is best suited to the circumstances. Metalinguistic negotiations reflect disagreements that are "genuine" in any plausible sense of the word, and Plunkett and Sundell argue that they provide the basis for a plausible alternative to Dworkin's interpretivist analysis of bedrock legal disputes. In particular, they claim that certain important bedrock legal disputes - including many of those that provide trouble for standard accounts of LAW as an ordinary, non-interpretative concept - can be thought of as metalinguistic negotiations. They claim that, in such cases, the speakers are best seen as advocating different ordinary (non-interpretive) concepts. They claim that this view has quite general theoretical advantages over Dworkin's interpretivism, including, importantly, that their view, in contrast to Dworkin's, does not entail either positivism or antipositivism, and does not require positing a controversial new type of concept.

About the Speaker:

David Plunkett is an Assistant Professor in the Philosophy Department atDartmouth College. Before joining Dartmouth, he was a Postdoctoral Scholar in the Law and Philosophy program atUCLA. He received his PhD (in Philosophy) from the University of Michigan in 2010, and his AB (in Social Studies) from Harvard in 2004.His main areas of current research are in Metaethics, Ethics,Philosophy of Law, and the Philosophy of Mind andLanguage.

Time: 6pm - 8pm

Location: Faculty Common Room, Level 4, Sydney Law School, Building F10, Eastern Avenue, University of Sydney

Cost: Free - Registration Essential

Contact: PLaCE Coordinator

Phone: 02 9351 0323

Email: 1f35145b575d5d1a3c4532072912280814051d0b1c67542c