This essay is intended to engage some of the controversies that have emerged in legal philosophy concerning the theory of linguistic meaning we should adopt with reference to the law. In particular, I will focus on two theories of linguistic meaning that have opposing positions both on the nature of meaning, and the consequences this might have for law and legal objectivity. The first can be called plain meaning view. The plain meaning theory claims that the meaning of legal terms is a settled thing, and it is the duty of legal officials, especially judges, to simply apply that meaning to a given case in hand. In modern American jurisprudence, the plain meaning theory is often associated with various originalist figures, most notably the late Antonin Scalia who called his iteration of the plain meaning theory “textualism.” For this reason, I will largely be focusing on Justice Scalia’s account. The second theory of linguistic meaning I will be examining can be called the indeterminate theory. The indeterminate theory holds that there is no set or foundational meaning to any semantic term in the law which can be objectively applied by legal practitioners.
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