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Language, Meaning and the Law$
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Chris Hutton

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780748633500

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748633500.001.0001

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Systems Theory, Normativity and the ‘Realist Dilemma’

Systems Theory, Normativity and the ‘Realist Dilemma’

(p.30) 2 Systems Theory, Normativity and the ‘Realist Dilemma’
Language, Meaning and the Law

Christopher Hutton

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter looks at the concept of ‘system’ as applied to the study of language, and the methodological and theoretical dilemmas that this raises for the study of language and law. The question is whether a system-based model can offer a ‘realistic’ representation of law, the mind, society, and so on. Linguistics is seen as a branch of systems theory, and this raises problems since linguistics is anti-normative, whereas law is inherently normative. The fundamental challenge represented by systems theories is that they tend to marginalise, or completely deny, the relevance of social actors’ subjectivity and of organising control over social meanings. In its extreme form, this implies that social actors ‘do not know what they are doing’, and their lived experience is an ‘epiphenomenal’ or contingent rather than constitutive feature of social interaction. Law seeks a particular answer to a particular question, whereas linguistics offers a general answer to a general question. Theories analyzed include Saussurean linguistics, Chomskyan theory, and ethnomethodology.

Keywords:   System, Systems theory, Realist dilemma, Saussurean linguistics, Chomskyan linguistics, Ethnomethodology, Agency, Subjectivity

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