The American Journal of Semiotics

Volume 1, Issue 4, 1982

Roberta Kevelson
Pages 63-84

Comparative Legal Cultures and Semiotics
An Introduction

Peirce defines the legal expression proximale cause and effect as an “obscure term like most of the terms of Aristotelianism.” He says that students of law and logic should be shocked by thc practicc of justifying the payment of damages in law by reference to a “term in Aristotelian logic or metaphysics.” That such practice does occur underscores and “illustrates the value of PRAGMATISM.” Peirce reminds us that in English law the term “witness” does not mean a person who testifies to his own experience, “but to facts which he knows by the immediate testimony of others” (from Baldwin’sDictionary, vol. 2,281-282; in CP 6.391). Practical law, Peirce suggests, results from persons whose knowledge of the facts of experience are formed in dialogue with others whose experience confirms their own. The dialogue is immediate; the knowledge is mediated through signs. From the viewpoint of Peirce’s pragmatism which he sees as an integral part of his semiotic Methodology or Speculative Rhetoric (MSS 774, 775) this paper will assurne that there are distinct types of legal cultures and that each may be regarded as a method of inquiry for the purpose of realizing social values. The relation between Laws and Societies-systems of legalities and legitimacies-will be regarded as culture-specific modes of dialectic. I propose here that Peirce’s Methodology-his method of methods-may account for the way that “patterns of conceptual change retlect the presuppositional structures of conceptual systems” (Toulmin 1972 :70-71). Within the framework of a semiotics of law I will be looking at various ways the idea of the Legal System has been interpreted.