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The Cognition of Contract Interpretation - Ryan Catterwell

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Raeburn Room
Old College
South Bridge


Tue 29 October 2019

The Centre for Commercial Law presents:

The Cognition of Contract Interpretation 

Dr Ryan Catterwell, Lecturer, TC Beirne School of Law, University of Queensland


In this talk, Dr Catterwell explains the cognition of contract interpretation. Relying on theoretical and empirical investigation, Dr Catterwell claims that interpretation is a four‐stage process through which objective intention is inferred from the choice of words in a contract. First, the question of interpretation is defined. Second, competing answers to the question are put forward—each an ‘interpretation’ or ‘construction’. Third, arguments in favour of each interpretation are formulated by analysing the potential meanings for the words, the background to the transaction, the objects served by the contract, and the consequences of the competing interpretations. Finally, the competing arguments are weighed and balanced to arrive at the interpretation that was probably intended. The “correct” interpretation is the one that is established to the highest degree of probability. The resolution of an interpretive dispute depends on the composition of arguments in favour of each interpretation. Of course, the particular arguments in each case are unique to the parties and to the dispute. However, contract interpretation involves reoccurring argument patterns, that is, disputes involving arguments of a similar nature and type. As Dr Catterwell will demonstrate, cases involving a similar argument composition are resolved in a similar way.

For a more detailed account of Dr Catterwell’s views on interpretation, see R Catterwell, ‘Striking a Balance in Contract Interpretation: The Primacy of the Text’ (2019) 23 Edin LR 52.


Dr Ryan Catterwell is a Lecturer at the TC Beirne School of Law. He teaches undergraduate Contract Law.
Dr Catterwell holds a PhD in contract interpretation from the University of Sydney. He is published on contract law in leading Australian and English journals. He is the author of a book titled “A Unified Approach to Contract Interpretation” that is to be published by Hart Publishing next year.
Dr Catterwell's research interests include private law, contract theory, legal interpretation, logic and law, and technology and law. In broad terms, his research seeks to explain the law by employing a blend of theoretical and empirical methods. Ryan also applies his doctrinal research in exploring the extent to which legal reasoning can be automated.
Prior to joining academia, Dr Catterwell practised for several years in a litigious, advisory and transactional capacity. He continues to practise as a consultant for a leading global law firm. In both his research and his teaching, Ryan brings to bear his commercial and practical experience.


This event is free, open to all with no registration required.