Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Addition to "Strings of Thought" (2/7/18)

2/7/18 A legislative bill or other proposal isn’t simply a string of words on a page. Instead, a legislative bill or other proposal involves concepts (the signified) to which words (the signifiers) refer with varying degrees of precision.  Legislators debate the concepts signified and the signifiers as signifying such concepts.  Justice Scalia therefore oversimplifies how language works when he claims that “the only thing one can say for sure was agreed to by both houses and the President (on signing the bill) is the text of the statute.”  (Reading Law, p. 376) Justice Scalia oversimplifies here because any such text was adopted as part of a greater whole, as signifiers of concepts involved in the bill.  For example, a statute reading “All cars must drive on the write side of interstate roads” adopted by both houses of Congress and signed by the President no doubt likely means “All cars must drive on the right side of interstate roads.” It’s hard to believe that both houses and the President agreed on “write side” instead of “right side” of the road. I at least cannot “say for sure” that they did. Justice Scalia concedes the same by acknowledging what he considers “the rare case of an obvious scrivener’s error.” (Reading Law, p. 57)  In the real world, of course, obvious scrivener’s errors are hardly rare.

The entire text of "Strings of Thought" can be found here.

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