Leiden Journal of International Law


Wording in International Law



Since the demise of philosophical foundationalism and that of the Aristotelian idea of an inner meaning of words, scholarship about international law is no longer perceived as a mining activity geared towards the extraction of pre-existing meaning. Rather, international legal scholarship is in a state of fierce competition for persuasiveness and semantic authority. This does not elevate persuasiveness into the determinant of legality, nor does it lead to a total rejection of the internal point of view. The configuration of that competition for naming is informed by the current structure (and the membership) of the interpretative community of international law. In this competition for naming, words constitute semantic weaponry. Mention is made here of uses of words in international law to create textual economy, generate semantic instability, rough out and hone scholarly ideas, enhance textual aesthetics, yield empiricism, create straw men and preserve the argumentative character of scholarly idea, gratify oneself, boost fame and careers, and intimidate peers. It is also argued that there is nothing to rein in in the use of such semantic tactics in the interpretative community of international law, for paradigmatic revolution is meant to be permanent. It is only if international legal scholars were to lose their social identity that the competition for naming and the interpretative community of international law would vanish altogether.

Key words

  • international law;
  • international legal scholarship;
  • interpretative community;
  • legal science;
  • paradigmatic revolution;
  • production of knowledge;
  • semantic instability;
  • semantic persuasiveness;
  • textual aesthetics;
  • wordfare


* Editor-in-chief; Associate Professor of International Law, Amsterdam Centre for International Law (ACIL), University of Amsterdam [j.daspremont@uva.nl]. The author wishes to thank Ingo Venzke, Larissa van den Herik, Yannick Radi, Bas Schotel, and Dov Jacobs for their insightful and critical remarks on an earlier version. It should also be noted that the following observations do not reflect views endorsed by the Leiden Journal of International Law and its editorial board. They are formulated by their author in his personal capacity.