Legal Interpretation: Perspectives from Other Disciplines and Private Texts

Legal Interpretation: Perspectives from Other Disciplines and Private Texts


Publication Date



In Legal Interpretation, Kent Greenawalt focuses on the complex and multi-faceted topic of textual interpretation of the law. All law needs to be interpreted, and there are many ways to do it. But what sorts of questions must one seek to answer in interpreting law and what approach should one take in each case? Whose interpretations should be prioritized? Why would one be drawn to one strategy over another? And should legal interpretation seek to satisfy specific aims or general objectives?

In order to provide the answers to these questions, Greenawalt explores the ways in which interpretive strategies from other disciplines – the philosophy of language, literary and musical interpretation, religious interpretation, and general interpretive theory – can augment and enrich methods of legal interpretation. Over the course of the book, he suggests how such forms of interpretation are analogous to legal interpretation – and points to those cases in which interpretation must rest on the distinctive aspects of legal theory, such as is the case with private documents.

Furthermore, Greenawalt's meditation suggests that interpretive strategies from other disciplines can shed light on the essential nature of legal interpretation and provide roads by which to account for dissonance between various methods of interpretation. Legal Interpretation is a thought-provoking reflection on the ways that insights from a range of intellectual traditions can deepen our understanding of law, particularly with regard to constitutional law.


Comparative and Foreign Law | Jurisdiction | Law | Law and Philosophy | Legal Education




Oxford University Press


New York, NY


"A wonderful discussion of the problem of interpretation in contract law. Greenawalt takes up an extremely difficult and highly controverted subject and analyzes it persuasively, authoritatively, and with great clarity and fair-mindedness. His analysis will undoubtedly be central to all future discussions of contractual interpretation."
Melvin Eisenberg, Professor of Law, University of California-Berkeley School of Law

"In this engaging and erudite book, Kent Greenawalt carefully shows why not all efforts to discern the meaning and application of texts are the same. Even within the discipline of law, the interpretive endeavor ranges over a variety of domains from open-ended constitutional clauses, to ordinary statutes and private documents. It is one of the great virtues of this book that Greenawalt reminds us that legal interpretation is less about the nature of language or meaning as it is crucially about how a legal system should work."
Suzanne Last Stone, University Professor of Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization, Yeshiva University

"Legal Interpretation offers a masterful exploration of what law can learn from other disciplines before focusing on the under-studied area of legal interpretation in private transactions. Kent Greenawalt emphasizes the range of tools that judges can and should use in interpreting legal texts, while arguing persuasively against those who would dogmatically narrow legal interpretation to a single tool or approach. The book is a welcome addition to the field, and a solid foundation for the promised future volumes on statutory and constitutional interpretation."
Brian H. Bix, Professor of Law and Philosophy, University of Minnesota

"Greenawalt presents an extraordinary overview and an incisive introduction to a topic of profound importance to legal thought and practice. This book is certain to influence thinking about interpretation in law and related fields for many years to come."
Geoffrey Parsons Miller, Professor of Law, New York University Law School

"At a time of deliberation over how, or even whether, judges should interpret the law, Kent Greenawalt reminds us that interpretation is inescapable in law as in most human endeavors. And in this wise and elegant work he demonstrates how good interpretation is a high intellectual art as well as a moral and (in the most complimentary sense) political art. This book will become a landmark of modern Pragmatism, and, fittingly, Greenawalt ends by applying his approach to the everyday world of legal challenges, from wills to contracts to statutes. This is an invaluable resource for lawyers and legal scholars."
Robert Weisberg, Professor of Law, Stanford University


Also available as an eBook through the Columbia University Libraries.

Legal Interpretation: Perspectives from Other Disciplines and Private Texts

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