MIDDLE GROUND. Legal Theory compared with Cognitive Linguistics / prototype theory.
One final similarity between Hart’s theory and prototype theory should be mentioned. It refers to no particular features of these theories, but rather to their meta-theoretical position in the disciplines they come from. The general purpose of open texture theory for Hart was to establish a middle-ground between two extreme positions in the tradition of legal thought: formalism and rule-scepticism, which he famously dubbed “the Scylla and Charybdis of juristic theory”. On the one hand, he rejected the possibility of mechanical jurisprudence associated with legal formalism, namely the idea that legal rules can be applied to cases through the sole use of logical deduction. Such approach seems plausible in plain cases, but it will inevitably fail in cases of the penumbra. On the other hand, he rejected another extreme view, namely rule-scepticism, associated mostly with American legal realists who refused to credit legal rules with any binding force due to the indeterminacy of linguistic meaning. Hart claimed that such a view equates the whole law with penumbra cases and ignores the existence of plain cases, which are much more common and unproblematic. Hart’s ambition was to strike a balance between those two extremes. He used the open texture theory, characterised by the distinction between the core and the penumbra, to argue that the law is neither entirely determinate nor entirely indeterminate. Instead, it is determinate in paradigm cases and indeterminate in penumbral ones.
Quite similarly, prototype theorists, and cognitive linguists in general, take a middle-ground between two, more traditional, approaches to semantics. First and foremost, they oppose the approach called “objectivism”, “rationalism” or “literalism”, as typified by Katz and Fodor’s semantic theory in linguistics and Frege-inspired formal semantics in analytic philosophy, best illustrated by the mind-as-a-computer metaphor. This approach supposedly holds that “all meaning is specifiable in sets of literal concepts and propositions that can apply directly to our given experience, and that reasoning is a rule-like activity that operates logically and linearly with these concepts”. At the same time, cognitive linguists defy postmodern approaches to meaning referred to as “subjectivism” or “relativism”. These approaches claim that there are no absolute foundations of thought and language, and that meaning is merely a product of social construction. Both “objectivism” and “subjectivism” are faces of semantic fundamentalism, the difference being that the former do it explicitly, while the latter only implicitly.Footnote23 Cognitive linguists, on the other hand, defend a moderate position, claiming that meaning is both principled and flexible, universal and relative, objective and socially constructed at the same time. Prototype theory plays a vital role in this argument.