ORIGINAL INTENT AND LEGAL INTERPRETATION

David Lyons

Boston University School of Law Working Paper 99-8

Abstract

This paper offers a close analysis of intentionalism -- the idea that the meaning or proper application of written law is determined by certain historical facts about the mental states of those who made the law, at the time they did so. Unrestricted intentionalism faces deep-seated problems: it offers no guidance for resolving its own ambiguities, it almost certainly generates contradictions, and it almost certainly implies that some meaningful laws lack meaning or proper application. On purely theoretical grounds, therefore, the unrestricted theory is almost certainly untenable. I suggest further that there's little prospect of refining intentionalism so that it might provide interpretive guidance; and finally that a type of seemingly intentionalist reasoning is better seen as proposing justifying rationales for laws -- an approach for which there is a plausible justifying rationale (but which, I note, is essentially limited by the availability of genuine justifications).

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David B. Lyons Contact Information

dbl@bu.edu
Boston University School of Law
765 Commonwealth Ave
Boston, MA 02215
USA
(617) 353-3135

Presentation and Publication Information:

This paper was presented at the Boston University School of Law faculty workshop, September 30, 1999, and the Columbia University Law School legal theory workshop, November 1, 1999.

It appears in 24 Australian Journal of Legal Philosophy (1999). As it represents a larger project on theories of legal interpretation, comments are very much welcome.

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