Definitions in Law

  • Michael D. Bayles
Part of the Synthese Library book series (SYLI, volume 216)


We are not interested in whether the animal in question is a bird or not in fact, but whether it is one in law.1


Natural Kind Fact Situation Argument Form Legal Practice Legal Term 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


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  1. 1.
    Regina v. Objibway, Criminal Law Quarterly 8: 137, reprinted in ‘Memorandum,’ Social Theory &Practice 2 (1972): 197-99.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    66 Mich. 568, 33 N.W. 919 (1887); “Yet the mistake was not of the mere quality of the animal, but went to the very nature of the thing.”Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    There is some doubt whether this situation would be classified as a factual or legal impossibility. If Baker tried to smuggle in a watch mistakenly thinking it was subject to duty, he would not be guilty of an attempt in law, but would be in ethics.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    R. M. Hare, The Language of Morals (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952) and Freedom and Reason (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963), esp. Ch. 2; Charles L. Stevenson, Ethics and Language (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1944).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    See Robert Birmingham, ‘Hart’s Definition and Theory in Jurisprudence Again,’ Connecticut Law Review 16 (1984): 779; Michael S. Moore, ‘A Natural Law Theory of Interpretation,’ Southern California Law Review 58 (1985): 291-301.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Abstract legal terms are rarely defined in legal practice. Thus, the purpose for their definition differs from that given in the text.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Nixv.Hedden, 149 U.S. 304(1893).Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    See James L. Weis, ‘Jurisprudence by Webster’s: The Role of the Dictionary in Legal Thought,’ Mercer Law Review 39 (1988): 964-65.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Moore, ‘A Natural Law Theory,’ pp. 322–338.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    In grocery stores, tomatoes are usually located with vegetables, not fruits. See also Stephen R. Munzer, ‘Realistic Limits on Realist Interpretation,’ Southern California Law Review 58 (1985): 469-70, who suggests that courts need not interpret ‘fish’ to exclude whales in a statute limiting the amount of fish that could be caught.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113(1973).Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    ‘The Ascription of Responsibility and Rights,’ in Logic and Language, ed. Antony Flew, First and Second Series (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Books, Doubleday & Co., 1965 [original edns. 1951, 1953]), pp. 152-54; ‘Definition and Theory in Jurisprudence,’ in Essays in Jurisprudence and Philosophy (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983), pp. 31-32; The Concept of Law (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1961), pp. 14-16. See also Kent Greenawalt, ‘Religion as a Concept in Constitutional Law,’ California Law Review 72 (1984): 762-67 (definition of ‘religion’).Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    For a critique, see Robert N. Moles, Definition and Rule in Legal Theory (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987), pp. 55-64.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Hart, ‘Ascription,’ pp. 154–155.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    G. P. Baker, ‘Defeasibility and Meaning,’ in Law, Morality, and Society, ed. P. M. S. Hacker and J. Raz (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), p. 33.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Hart, ‘Ascription,’ pp. 159–161; Robert S. Summers, ‘“Good Faith” in General Contract Law and the Sales Provisions of the Uniform Commercial Code,’ Virginia Law Review 54 (1968): 200-201.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    See Hilary Putnam, ‘The Analytic and the Synthetic,’ Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science, ed. Herbert Feigl and Grover Maxwell, vol. 3 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1962), pp. 358-97; see also H. L. A. Hart, ‘Theory and Definition in Jurisprudence,’ Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Supplementary Volume 29 (1955): 251-52 (used for ‘legal system’); Greenawalt, ‘Religion as a Concept,’ pp. 767-69 (for ‘religion’).Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Concept of Law, pp. 121–122.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    ‘Definition and Theory,’ 34–35.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    See H. L. A. Hart, Essays on Bentham (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), p. 10.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    Birmingham, ‘Hart’s Definition,’ pp. 793-94.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    See, for example, Moore, ‘A Natural Law Theory,’ pp. 348-58; Ronald Dworkin, Law’s Empire (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986), pp. 317-27; and Gerald C. MacCallum, Jr., ‘Legislative Intent,’ in Essays in Legal Philosophy, ed. Robert S. Summers (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), pp. 237-73.Google Scholar
  23. 23.
    McBoyle v. United States, 283 U.S. 25 (1931).Google Scholar
  24. 24.
    See Karl N. Llewellyn, ‘Remarks on the Theory of Appellate Decision and the Rules or Canons About How Statutes Are to Be Construed,’ Vanderbilt Law Review 3 (1950): 395-406.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Michael D. Bayles
    • 1
  1. 1.Late of Department of PhilosophyFlorida State UniversityUSA

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