What the Epistemic Account of Vagueness Means for Legal Interpretation

Law and Philosophy 35 (1):29-54 (2016)
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Abstract

This paper explores what the epistemic account of vagueness means for theories of legal interpretation. The thesis of epistemicism is that vague statements are true or false even though it is impossible to know which. I argue that if epistemicism is accepted within the domain of the law, then the following three conditions must be satisfied: Interpretative reasoning within the law must adhere to the principle of bivalence and the law of excluded middle, interpretative reasoning within the law must construe vague statements as an epistemic phenomenon, and epistemicism must be expanded to include normative considerations in order to account for legal theories that are consistent with the first two conditions. The first two conditions are internal to a particular theory of legal interpretation, while the third condition is external to a particular theory of legal interpretation. My conclusion shows that there are legal theories that are internally consistent with the fundamental features of epistemicism. However, within the domain of law—and specifically in the case of legal theories that are internally consistent with epistemicism—I show that vagueness cannot be explained simply by our ignorance of the meaning and use of vague expressions. Rather, epistemicism must also account for ignorance of the requisite normative considerations in legal theories with which it is otherwise consistent.

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Luke William Hunt
University of Alabama

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