Karl Olivecrona (1971) maintains that "right" is a "hollow word," and so also for some other legal terms. "Right," he says, "has no conceptual background." He arrives at this position after an examination of metaphysical and naturalistic accounts, including American legal realism. Some of Olivecrona's arguments will be evaluated here. His position is influenced by Hagerstrom's theory of legal language, but he argues that Hagerstrom fails to account for how such terms as "right," "duty," etc. function in legal discourse and why they are useful. A parallel approach is also found in Olivecrona's book The Problem of the Monetary Unit (1957). Olivecrona is left with the problem of how such "hollow" terms function. His explanation is largely psychological. Going beyond J. L. Austin's notion of performatory language, he introduces the idea of performatory imperatives. I propose to submit Olivecrona's approach to a critical examination. It is suggested that had he started from everyday, nonlegal promises and commitments he might well have ended up with a different theory of legal language.
Martin P. Golding, Rights, Performatives, and Promises in Karl Olivecrona’s Legal Theory, 18 Ratio Juris 16-29 (2005)