So I was reading for class today about some-or-other boring case from the 1800s, and there was this recurring idea of interpretation going on. How do you know what a law really says? In what manner do you determine meaning when there can be a multiplicity of understandings on a single word? Isn’t this the way fun yay part of law?
But instead of being excited about the idea, I took offense at it. Really? Words? Are they that hard to understand? Are the meanings so different that we don’t really know what the law says in a particular instance? Are words really completely not representative of the ideas inside our own heads? I would say that statutory interpretation aside, we’re really missing something with this conception of language and communication.
SO let’s take a look at this from the old-school philosophy angle – the Allegory of the Cave (which is about where I stopped paying attention, thanks). Here we’ve got the ‘real’ material world, and some idea of forms or ideas which are truer than true. So in this case, everything we can possibly see or feel or touch is only like a shadow of the real thing. Our lives as we know them are Micro Machines. Not a particularly pleasant thought, but one the court seems to get along with well. Also, it doesn’t seem to be that reasonable in the scientific era that we all believe in some out there ‘more real’ thing that is beyond possible conception.
So, another idea, and I can’t remember where it’s from. Maybe Navajo? Anyway, the idea is of signs being the true thing and all the associations being false – the symbol is what’s ‘real’. For example, let’s say you have some stylized picture of a flower. Obviously, it’s not a specific individual flower, or even type of flower, but a representation of the whole – specific flowers, associated meanings (love, youth, poetry), and all kinds of other related stuff that’s implied by a particular symbol. The sign is more than the signified, or there’s multiple signifieds for a single sign (thank you, Saussure). This is more in line with my own conception of the ‘real’ world and even how the law should be interpreted.
Ideas are fickle, changing, and always indeterminate. It is words that are eternal, enduring, and defined.