This essay is a response to the important central theme of Michael Green’s recent article, Dworkin’s Fallacy, or What the Philosophy of Language Can’t Teach Us about the Law, 89 Va. L. Rev. 1897 (2003), which considers the relationship between the philosophy of language and the philosophy of law. Green argues forcefully that a number of theorists with quite different viewpoints commonly maintain a connection between the two which turns out to be unfounded. It is accepted that it is wrong to assume such a connection, but it is suggested that Green has failed to recognise the connection that can be established between the two disciplines due to the particular way in which law as a practice uses words.
The reasons given by Green for seeking to maintain a distinction between ordinary language practice and the language practice of the law are considered and rejected in part I of the essay. The general conclusion is reached that, irrespective of which position is adopted in the philosophy of law, at the point of judgment the philosophy of law and the philosophy of language are inextricably linked in being concerned to account for the same practice.
Part II of the essay considers the basic issues for the philosophy of language addressed in Green’s article, which are concerned with the search for the mechanism which links a particular meaning to a word. One reading of Wittgenstein’s rule skepticism, supported by Dennis Patterson, is to reject the existence of any mechanism interrupting the direct connection between the capacity we possess in our language practice and the capacity we possess in the practice to which our language refers. Patterson provides another target for Green’s allegation that theorists who take a position in the philosophy of law from their position in the philosophy of language are committing a fallacy. However, it is pointed out that within the Patterson-Wittgenstein position, there is no possibility of moving from one position to the other since both positions are already necessarily connected.
The remaining discussion in Part II then explores the apparently common connection between law and language established within the practice of judgment and within the general view of the nature of language favoured in Patterson’s reading of Wittgenstein. It is argued that Wittgenstein’s philosophical method may maintain a connection between law and language, and the positions adopted within their respective philosophies, but is incapable of resolving the controversy between competing views of how law/”law” should be understood. By contrast, the practice of judgment is used precisely to resolve controversy. Although this judgment is concerned primarily with a specific part of the law, its significance extends to how we regard the philosophical endeavours that need to provide an account of it. This provides lessons for both the philosophy of language and the philosophy of law.