The Hidden Acts of Definition in Law - Statutory Definitions and Burden of Persuasion

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The concept of “definition” refers both to a propositional structure, namely a type of convertible relation between the definiens and the definiendum, and a speech act that can have various definitional purposes. On the one hand, definitions can have different subject matter. For instance, it is possible to define a concept (essential definitions), the meaning of its linguistic expression (etymological definition), its possible extension (definition by enumeration), an illustration of its possible denotations (definition by example), or the operation that can be used to classify the entities falling under it (operational definition). On the other hand, definitions are the propositional content of acts aimed at producing specific effects.
Definitions can impose a new meaning, or remind or inform the interlocutors of criteria of classification. However, from an argumentative perspective the acts of stipulating, reminding or informing of, or committing to a definition are not as dangerous as the implicit acts of omitting a definition and implicitly defining and redefining a concept. Sometimes crucial concepts, especially the ones concerning problematic ethical or political issues, are ill described or are left (intentionally or unintentionally) undefined. This gap can become the ground of extremely effective strategies based on tacit (re)definitions. These uses of definition can shed light on the definitional activity of the lawmakers. Statutory definitions become in this sense a limitation of the interpreters’ freedom of redefining strategically a concept. For this reason, the choice of leaving a concept undefined or underdefined can be regarded as a delegation of powers to the bodies in charge of interpreting the statutes.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLogic in the Theory and Practice of Lawmaking
EditorsM. Araszkiewicz , K. Pleszka
Place of PublicationEstados Unidos
ISBN (Electronic)978-3-319-19575-9
ISBN (Print)978-3-319-19574-2
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Legal argumentation, legal theory, argumentation theory


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