Law 165 - Legal Interpretation through the Lens of Philosophy of Language and Linguistics

Mark Greenberg

Mark Greenberg

Professor of Law
Professor of Philosophy
B.A. Johns Hopkins University, 1982
J.D. UC Berkeley-Boalt Hall, 1985
B.Phil. University of Oxford, 1990
D.Phil. University of Oxford, 2000
UCLA Faculty Since 2004
Course Description:

This course will concern both the way in which tools from the contemporary study of language can illuminate statutory and constitutional interpretation, and also the limits of such tools.  There is a long history of philosophy of language being drawn upon to improve our understanding of the interpretation of legal texts.  In the past few years, there has been a new influx of ideas from philosophy of language and linguistics into the study of legal interpretation.  In addition to legal scholars who draw on such ideas, several philosophers of language have joined the fray (not to mention literary theorists).  For example, some philosophers of language have recently argued that a proper understanding of the mechanisms by which semantic content is pragmatically enriched can solve many of the problems of statutory and constitutional interpretation.  I myself have been involved in the debate in two ways, as a philosopher of law who draws on philosophy of language and mind and as a critic of the recently influential idea that recent developments in the study of language can solve the problems of legal interpretation.  Some readings, including judicial opinions, will illustrate the way in which a lack of understanding about language can lead to serious problems in interpreting statutes and constitutions.  But we will focus primarily on articles that are part of the ongoing debate about the relevance of philosophy of language and linguistics to statutory and constitutional interpretation.  Along the way, I will provide some background on important developments in philosophy of language and linguistics.  We will read some of my own work, as well as that of my opponents and critics.  Students will write several short reaction papers to the readings.  No background in philosophy is presupposed, though the course is likely to appeal to students with an interest in philosophy or linguistics. 

Course Learning Outcomes:

By the end of this course, students will be have developed a cluster of skills:

analyzing and interpreting statutes and constitutional provisions

understanding and criticizing different approaches to the interpretation of statutes and constitutional provisions

applying background understanding of the way language works to the interpretation of statutory and constitutional provisions

deploying sophisticated arguments for particular interpretations of statutory and constitutional provisions