Dr Hrafn Asgeirsson

Research Interests

Dr Asgeirsson's main interests lie in philosophy of law, philosophy of language, and metaethics - he welcomes enquires from students seeking supervision on topics in his areas of research, including:

  • General jurisprudence; philosophical theories about the nature of law
  • Law and language; constitutional and statutory interpretation
  • Legal normativity; the legitimacy/authority of law; legal obligation

Teaching

  • Jurisprudence
  • Tort

Departmental Duties

Director of PhD admissions

Affiliations

Surrey Centre for Law and Philosophy

Contact Me

E-mail:
Phone: 01483 68 2854

Find me on campus
Room: 30 AB 05

Publications

Highlights

  • Asgeirsson H. (2015) 'On the Instrumental Value of Vagueness in the Law'. The University of Chicago Press Ethics, 125 (2), pp. 425-448.

    Abstract

    It is natural to think that law ought not to be vague. After all, law is supposed to guide conduct, and vague law seems poorly suited to do that. Contrary to this common impression, however, a number of authors have argued that vagueness in the law is sometimes a good thing, because it is a means to achieving certain valuable legislative ends. In this article, I argue that many authors—including Timothy Endicott and Jeremy Waldron—wrongly associate vagueness with instrumental roles that are really played by a closely related semantic phenomenon.

Journal articles

  • Asgeirsson H. (2015) 'Expected Applications, Contextual Enrichment, and Objective Communicative Content: The Linguistic Case for Conception-Textualism'. Legal Theory, 21 (3-4), pp. 115-135.

    Abstract

    Textualist and originalist legal reasoning usually involves something like the following thesis, whether implicitly or explicitly: the legal content of a statute or constitutional clause is the linguistic content that a reasonable member of the relevant audience would, knowing the context and conversational background, associate with the enactment. In this paper, I elucidate some important aspects of this thesis, emphasizing the important role that contextual enrichment plays in textualist and originalist legal reasoning. The aim is to show how the linguistic framework underlying sophisticated versions of new textualism and public-meaning originalism can help to shed important light on the plausibility of what John Perry calls conception textualism. Contra Perry, I do not think that conception textualism—arguably best classified as a version of expected-applications originalism—is “confused, implausible, and unworkable.” I also briefly compare my linguistic case for conception textualism with Justice Scalia's nonlinguistic argument for it, the main premise of which concerns the constitutive function of constitutions.

  • Asgeirsson H. (2015) 'On the Instrumental Value of Vagueness in the Law'. The University of Chicago Press Ethics, 125 (2), pp. 425-448.

    Abstract

    It is natural to think that law ought not to be vague. After all, law is supposed to guide conduct, and vague law seems poorly suited to do that. Contrary to this common impression, however, a number of authors have argued that vagueness in the law is sometimes a good thing, because it is a means to achieving certain valuable legislative ends. In this article, I argue that many authors—including Timothy Endicott and Jeremy Waldron—wrongly associate vagueness with instrumental roles that are really played by a closely related semantic phenomenon.

  • Asgeirsson H. (2012) 'Vagueness, Comparative Value, and the "Lawmakers’ Challenge"'. Franz Steiner Verlag Archiv für Rechts- und Sozialphilosphie, 98 (3), pp. 299-316.

    Abstract

    In "The Value of Vagueness," Timothy Endicott argues that vague law can be better than precise law. I think he is in many respects correct, but will suggest that we modify and supplement his framework in order to get a firmer grip on what I call the Lawmakers' Challenge: the scenario in which lawmakers find themselves when they must determine whether the consequences of precision are worse than the consequences of vagueness. This will allow us to identify several points of actual and possible disagreement regarding the value of vagueness for law, each of which could affect Endicott's claim that vagueness is sometimes preferable to precision. The framework will also allow us to compare positions that seem – on the face of it – hard to compare, due to the fact that they rest on different theories of value and/or different theories of law.

Book chapters

  • Asgeirsson H. (2016) 'Can Legal Practice Adjudicate Between Theories of Vagueness?'. in Keil G, Poscher R (eds.) Vagueness and Law: Philosophical and Legal Perspectives Oxford University Press Article number 4 , pp. 95-126.

    Abstract

    Scott Soames has recently argued that the fact that lawmakers and other legal practitioners regard vagueness as having a valuable power-delegating function in the law, evidenced by actual legislative practice, gives us good reason to favor one theory of vagueness – the partialdefinition/ context-sensitive theory – over another – the epistemic theory. The reason, Soames says, is that for a significant set of cases, the former helps explain this function, whereas the latter does not. If Soames is right, then facts about legal practice can in an important sense adjudicate between rival theories of vagueness, which is an exciting conclusion, both from the point of view of philosophy of law and philosophy of language. The argument is also likely to generate considerable optimism about what else we might expect to learn about language by looking at the law. The purpose of this paper is to significantly temper any such expectations, by arguing that we have to give up the one premise of Soames’s argument that he seems to take to be uncontroversial: that the legal content of a statute or constitutional clause is identical with, or constituted by, its communicative content. Following Mark Greenberg, we can call this a version of the communicative-content theory of law. Recently, the communicative-content theory has come under serious pressure from several prominent philosophers of law and legal scholars – including Greenberg, Lawrence Solum, and Dale Smith – who point out that legal textbooks are full of examples in which there appears to be some clear difference between the communicative content of a statute or constitutional clause and its legal content. I argue that the problem raised by these examples gives us good reason to reject identity- and constitution-based version of the theory, like Soames’s, but go on to provide a preliminary sketch of my own account of legal content – the Pro Tanto view, as I call it – and show how it avoids the problem by allowing us to explain away the apparent “gaps” in a principled and unified way. Despite being a version of the communicative-content theory of law, however, the Pro Tanto view does not suffice to vindicate Soames’s argument for the partialdefinition/ context-sensitive theory of vagueness, which I examine in some detail in the latter half of the paper. Due to the need for a fairly complex account of the relationship between communicative content and legal content, facts about legal practice do not, after all, see

  • Asgeirsson H. (2016) 'On the Possibility of Non-literal Legislative Speech'. in (ed.) Pragmatics and Law Springer International Publishing 10
  • Asgeirsson H. (2015) 'From the Nature of Things to Nature Itself: The Philosophy of Ólafur Páll Jónsson'. in Malenfant G, Dagsson J (eds.) Heimspeki - For the Wisdom of the World: Inquiring into Contemporary Icelandic Philosophy Reykjavík : University of Iceland Press
  • Asgeirsson H. (2013) 'Vagueness and Power-Delegation in Law: A Reply to Sorensen'. in Freeman M, Smith F (eds.) Law and Language Oxford University Press 15 Article number 20 , pp. 344-355.

    Abstract

    Roy Sorensen has argued that vagueness in the law cannot be justified by appeal to the value of power-delegation, and thereby threatens to take away one of the main reasons for thinking that vagueness can be valuable to law. Delegation of power to officials is justified, he thinks, only if these officials are in a better position to discover whether a particular x is F, a condition not satisfied in cases of vagueness. I argue that Sorensen’s argument is unsound: delegation of power can be valuable even if the delegates are not in a better position to answer that question.

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