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The Australian National University

A Statute’s Meaning Need Not Be Its Law

Jamie Blaker (2018) 46 (3)

There is a theory of statutory interpretation that is simple, elegant and well-subscribed. The theory is known as the meaning thesis, and it holds that the law of a statute consists in the ordinary linguistic meaning that is communicated by the statute’s language. In a recent article Dale Smith has sought to discredit the meaning thesis. Here I will seek to discredit the thesis further, this time by drawing on the accomplishments of linguistics and the philosophy of language. In order for the meaning thesis to succeed, it must be demonstrated that the thesis is consistent with the established common law rules of interpretation. However, some of these rules appear to require that judges defy the plain linguistic meanings of statutes in limited circumstances. The meaning theorist’s challenge, then, is to find some way to show that the established rules of interpretation do not truly cause judges to defy the language of statutes, despite appearances to the contrary. In this article, I will explain why the meaning theorist only has bad options in this regard. Of the available options, meaning theorists have settled for an argument that is premised on a flawed theory of how language communicates meaning. The theory of communication in question was proposed by H P Grice in the 1950s, but discredited by his contemporaries.

Vol 46, Issue 3, 2018

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