Universiteit Antwerpen

June 2, 2014 | David Plunkett on (Anti-)Positivist theories of law and language / Eliot Michaelson on 'Positivism, Anti-Positivism, and the Publicity Paradox'

The 'Centre for Law and Cosmopolitan Values' is happy to announce two talks on Positivist and Anti-Positivist accounts of law and their relation to important matters of language and language use in the legal domain.


I) David Plunkett
Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Dartmouth College will give a talk on subjects related to his recently published article “Antipositivist Arguments from Legal Thought and Talk: The Metalinguistic Response”, in: Pragmatism, Law, and Language. Ed. G. Hubbs and D. Lind. Routledge. 56-75 (co-authored with Tim Sundell).

Abstract: Legal thought and talk is widely thought to involve moral argumentation, especially by those who are themselves actively engaged in legal thought and talk. If this thought is correct, it would seem to underwrite a powerful argument against legal positivism. We show how a distinctive view that we have developed elsewhere about legal communication—a view on which significant parts of legal communication involve what we call “metalinguistic negotiations”—gives us important explanatory resources in responding on behalf of legal positivism to this type of argument.

The above-mentioned article relates to a talk previously given at the University of Antwerp on his “Dworkin’s Interpretivism and the Pragmatics of Legal Disputes”, in: Legal Theory. Volume 19, Issue 3 (2013), 242-281 (co-authored with Tim Sundell), as well as to his “Disagreement and the Semantics of Normative and Evaluative Terms”, in: Philosophers' Imprint. Volume 13, 1-37 (co-authored with Tim Sundell).

For further information visit Prof. Plunkett's research page.


II) Eliot Michaelson
Eliot Michaelson, Mellon Postdoctoral Scholar at McGill University will follow with a presentation on 'Positivism, Anti-Positivism, and the Publicity Paradox'.

Abstract: A number of philosophers have recently proposed to identify the content of law with the content communicated by authoritative legal texts. This proposed identification has subsequently come under withering scrutiny from Mark Greenberg, who argues that it is neither warranted nor predictively satisfying. Certain of Greenberg’s arguments depend on an appeal to a peculiar a set of cases: cases in which the content of law plausibly diverges sharply from the content of the relevant legal texts. The present essay argues that these sorts of cases also illuminate a threat to Greenberg’s own anti-positivist project. In particular, I will argue that these sorts of cases serve to illustrate why anti-positivists face what I will call the ‘Publicity Paradox’. In contrast, positivists who reject the identification of legal obligations with the communicated content of legal texts have a straightforward way of avoiding this paradox.

For further information visit Michaelson's research page.



Room M.103, M Building (De Meerminne Building), Sint-Jacobstraat 2, 2000 Antwerpen.