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Wittgenstein's Tractatus and the Law

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This paper summarises Wittgenstein's short work on logic, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921) and proposes an intersection with legal discourse. Wittgenstein diagrams a model of propositional logic that takes two values (true/false), is primarily referential and works best at picking out objects in space, does not engage well with time and cannot assert future predictions, and is the basis for algorithmic decision-making. Legal discourse also proceeds via a rule-based collection of sentences that are deemed true or false. The law processes its parties especially by making use of binary categories: guilty/not-guilty, sustained/over-ruled, granted/not-granted. An advantage of Wittgenstein's Tractatus is that it concludes with remarks on ethics and the limits of logic as a hermeneutic. These remarks help to spell out the limits of logic as used in the law, which in turn urge a literary approach to the law.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5235/175214812800745627

Publication date: June 1, 2012

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  • Law and Humanities is a peer-reviewed journal, providing a for for scholarly discourse within the arts and humanities around the subject of law. For this purpose, the arts and humanities disciplines are taken to include literature, history (including history of art), philosophy, theology, classics and the whole spectrum of performance and representational arts. The remit of the journal does not extend to consideration of the laws that regulate practical aspects of the arts and humanities (such as the law of intellectual property). Law and Humanities is principally concerned to engage with those aspects of human experience which are not empirically quantifiable or scientifically predictable.
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