Dr Hrafn Asgeirsson (PhD, USC) joined the School of Law in 2016, as Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) in Philosophy and Law and member of the Surrey Centre for Law and Philosophy. Prior to that, Dr Asgeirsson was Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Iceland, and before that Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Monash University, Faculty of Law. In 2015, he was H.L.A. Hart Visiting Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Ethics and Philosophy of Law.
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
Director of PhD admissions
Surrey Centre for Law and Philosophy
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