Counterfactual conditionals in argumentative legal language in Dutch

Nele Nivelle


Legal argumentation is intended to resolve a difference of opinion between two or more legal parties by determining what are the facts in a case and finding an appropriate legal interpretation for these facts. Some of the discussion moves in legal argumentation take the shape of counterfactual conditionals (CTFs). CTFs are conditionals with an antecedent that is implicated to be false, not corresponding to the facts, and they occur in a number of argumentative contexts and argumentation techniques. This paper gives a structured overview of how such non-fact-based CTFs can contribute to resolving a legal and fact- centered difference of opinion. It does so by presenting a bottom-up corpus-based typology of CTFs in lawyers’ conclusions and in judgments in civil cases heard by Dutch-speaking Belgian courts of law. This typology is based on linguistic and pragmatic factors, such as the status of the facts that are referred to in the antecedent, the nature of the relation between antecedent and consequent, and the relation the CTF bears to the argumentative, situational and legal context.

Quick links
A browser-friendly version of this article is not yet available. View PDF
Bocken, Hubert
(1988) Enkele hoofdthema’s van de causaliteitsproblematiek. In Tijdschrift voor Belgisch burgerlijk recht 3: 268-298.Google Scholar
Bocken, Hubert, and Ingrid Boone
(2002) Causaliteit in het Belgische recht. In Tijdschrift voor privaatrecht 4: 1-61.Google Scholar
Broda-Bahm, Kenneth T
(2000) Arguments on what might have been: An observational analysis of counterfactual advocacy among mock jurors in deliberative and focus-group settings. Paper presented at the Annual Convention of the National Communication Association, Seattle.
(2001) Your counterfactual strategy: How you can influence jurors' thoughts about 'what might have been'. Paper presented at the Annual Convention of the National Communication Association, Seattle, WA.
Collins, John, Ned Hall, and Laury A. Paul
(2004) Causation and counterfactuals. Cambridge, Massachusetts/London, England: The MIT Press. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Collins, John
(2004) Preemptive prevention. In J. Collins, N. Hall, and L.A. Paul (eds.), Causation and counterfactuals. Cambridge, Massachusetts/London, England: The MIT Press, pp. 107-117. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Dalcq, Roger O
(1992) Problèmes actuels au matière de causalité. In Revue générale des assurances et des responsabilités 1, 12656(1)-12656(8).Google Scholar
Declerck, Renaat, and Susan Reed
(2001) Conditionals. A comprehensive empirical analysis. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Fearon, James D
(1996) Causes and counterfactuals in social science. Exploring an analogy between cellular automata and historical processes. In A. Tetlock and Ph. Belkin (eds.), Counterfactual thought experiments in world politics. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, pp. 39-67.Google Scholar
Feteris, Eveline T
(1994) Redelijkheid in juridische argumentatie. Een overzicht van theorieën over het rechtvaardigen van juridische beslissingen. Zwolle: W.E.J. Tjeenk Willink.Google Scholar
Goodman, Nelson
(1947) The Problem of counterfactual conditionals. The journal of philosophy 44: 1- 13. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Hart, H.L.A., and Tony Honoré
(1959) Causation in the law. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Haeseryn, W., K. Romijn, G. Geerts, J. de Rooij, and M.C. van den Toorn
(1997) Algemene Nederlandse spraakkunst. Groningen/Deurne: Martinus Nijhoff Uitgevers/Wolters Plantijn.Google Scholar
Kahneman, Daniel, and Amos Tversky
(1982) The simulation heuristic. In D. Kahneman, P. Slovic, and A. Tversky (eds.), Judgment under uncertainty: Heuristics and biases. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 201-208. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Lewis, David
(1973) Causation. The journal of philosophy 70.17: 556-567. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
(2004) Causation as Influence. In J. Collins, N. Hall, and L.A. Paul (eds.), Causation and counterfactuals. Cambridge, Massachusetts/London: The MIT Press, pp. 76-106.Google Scholar
Macrae, C. Neil, Alan B. Milne, and Riana J. Griffiths
(1993) Counterfactual thinking and the perception of criminal behaviour. British journal of psychology 84: 221-226. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Nivelle, Nele, and William Van Belle
(2006 in press) The use of counterfactual conditionals expressing causation in legal discourse. In Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Argumentation .
Perelman, Chaim, and Lucie Olbrechts-Tyteca
(1969) The new rhetoric. A treatise on argumentation. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press.Google Scholar
Rescher, Nicholas
(1961) Belief-contravening suppositions. The philosophical review 70.2: 176-196. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Spellman, Barbara A., and Alexandra Kincannon
(2001) The relationship between counterfactual ("but for") and causal reasoning: Experimental findings and implications for jurors' decisions. Law & contemporary problems 64: 241. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Turley, Kandi Jo, Lawrence J. Sanna, and Renée L. Reiter
(1995) Counterfactual thinking and perceptions of rape. Basic and Applied Social Psychology 17.3: 285-303. CrossrefGoogle Scholar
Van Eemeren, Frans H., and Rob Grootendorst
(2004) A systematic theory of argumentation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Van Gerven, Walter, and Sofie Covemaeker
(2001) Verbintenissenrecht. Leuven/Leusden: Acco.Google Scholar
Wilson, Deirdre
(2000) Metarepresentation in linguistic communication. In D. Sperber (ed.), Metarepresentations: A multidisciplinary perspective. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 411-448.Google Scholar
Wilson, Deirdre, and Dan Sperber
(2004) Relevance theory. In L.R. Horn, and G. Ward (eds.), The handbook of pragmatics. Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 607-632.Google Scholar