Carl G. Hempel Lectures “Interpretive Objects: Meaning in Language, Life, and Law”

Lecture 3: "Law"
May 5, 2023, 4:00 pm6:00 pm
Robertson Hall, Bowl 001



Event Description

Series abstract:
Some kinds of thing are interpretive objects: instead of being unified by physical continuity, function, artifice, or social construction, they are unified by the best interpretation of what is there. In these lectures I will endeavor to convince you not only that there are such things, but that we find them in many places – that words, novels and philosophy journal articles, constitutional traditions, and even you and I, are in fact interpretive objects. Interpretive objects, I’ll ultimately argue, are where we find meaning.

"Law" abstract:
The most prominent applications of interpretivity in philosophy have been to language (or contentful thought) and to the law. To these I’ve tried to add personhood in lecture 2 and other recent work, and I’ve considered language in lecture 1. So in this lecture I’ll turn to consider what role interpretivity might have in the law. One of the central features of Ronald Dworkin’s prominent interpretive view of the law is that interpretations must fit the existing (that is, past) body of legislation, verdicts, and judicial reasoning. But I’ll suggest in this lecture that constitutional interpretations are, like persons, interpretive works-in-progress, which means that much of what our interpretations must fit with still lies in the future. By expanding on what we learned in lecture 2 about what follows from being an interpretive work-in-progress, I’ll argue that we can get helpful leverage on thinking about the proper role for both judicial and customary precedent. Finally, I’ll close by trying to draw together some threads and support the thesis that the lens of interpretive objects can help us to see how it could be unequivocally true that words and lives can both have meaning.