The Normative Construction of Legislative Intent

Droit & Philosophie, Annuaire de lā€˜ Institut Michel Villey, Forthcoming

30 Pages Posted: 31 Oct 2016 Last revised: 19 Dec 2016

See all articles by Ralf Poscher

Ralf Poscher

Max Planck Institute for the Study of Crime, Security and Law

Date Written: October 29, 2016


Legislative intent is not only important for the legitimacy of large parts of the law. More fundamentally it is also central to an analytical reconstruction of legal hermeneutics. As amongst others the work of Paul Grice and Donald Davidson has highlighted, non-natural signs acquire their meaning only through the communicative intentions that are connected to them. No meaning, no interpretation and no hermeneutics of linguistic expressions can exist without communicative intentions, be they factual or fictive. Central to communicative intentions is an intentional subject. For codified law, that means the legislature. Without a convincing reconstruction of legislative intent, the whole analytical reconstruction of legal hermeneutics fails to get off the ground. In modern legal systems, however, legislation is a collective process involving often several hundred individuals. In the more recent literature the thus raised issues of collective intentionality have often been addressed by pointing to reductive accounts in the theory of action and group agency. There is, however, little reason to be confident that the conditions of reductive accounts of collective intentionality, which have been designed for small sized groups, can be met by the legislature. The essay shows why this is the case even if we take the anaphoric character of the vote on legislation into account. The anaphoric analysis of the voting act, however, allows to reveal the linguistic structure of our legislative practices and the normative assumptions build into it. It then becomes apparent, how our talk of legislative intent relies on normative ascriptions of communicative intentions to individual legislators. It is via normative ascriptions of intentions ā€“ also ubiquitous in other areas of the law ā€“ that we arrive at the necessary overlap of communicative intentions for a reductive account of legislative intent. This normative construction of legislative intent has to be distinguished from legal construction as a practice to amend the law mainly in cases where legislative intent runs out.

Keywords: Group Agency, Collective Intentionality, Legal Construction, Legal Interpretation, Legal Hermeneutics, Hermeneutics, Grice, Davidson, Raz

Suggested Citation

Poscher, Ralf, The Normative Construction of Legislative Intent (October 29, 2016). Droit & Philosophie, Annuaire de lā€˜ Institut Michel Villey, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Ralf Poscher (Contact Author)

Max Planck Institute for the Study of Crime, Security and Law ( email )

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Freiburg, 79100

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