Vol 18 No 2 (2018)

Conversational Implicatures and Legal Interpretation: On the Difference between Conversational Maxims and Legal Interpretative Criteria

Francesca Poggi
Law dpt. “Cesare Beccara”, University of Milan
Published January 23, 2019
  • Legal interpretation,
  • conversational implicatures,
  • interpretative criteria,
  • Paul Grice,
  • law


Currently, there is an ongoing debate which involves legal scholars, as well as philosophers of language and pragmatists, about the applicability of Grice’s theory of conversational implicatures to legal statutes, i.e. about the possibility of interpreting legal statutes according to Grice’s conversational maxims (or maxims that are similar to Grice’s ones). The aim of this paper is twofold: first, to provide a clear reconstruction of the debate at stake; second, to advance an argument within that debate. After a brief presentation of Grice’s theory (§2), I will examine the arguments that have been advanced in favour of and against the possibility of interpreting legal statutes according to Grice’s model (§3), and then I will argue that the dispute should be engaged on a factual level. My thesis is that even if some legal interpretative criteria have a content similar to that of conversational maxims, their functioning is totally different, because they are not based on the existence of a mutual general expectation.