The Problem of Interpretive Canons

(2023) 44(1) Statute Law Review (Forthcoming)

28 Pages Posted: 19 May 2023

See all articles by David Tan

David Tan

Deakin University, Geelong, Australia - Deakin Law School

Date Written: May 15, 2023


In this paper it is shown that interpretive canons are either constitutionally invalid because of the principles of interpretation it establishes, or a theory of interpretation can be made to be inconsistent: where a theory of interpretation says do p, then a new canon can say do not-p. This is called the Canon Dilemma. Whichever horn of the dilemma is taken as acceptable (accept invalidity or possible inconsistency), this shows that canons cause more problems for theorising about interpretation than currently realised. Some might interpret the Canon Dilemma as a process of theory change (p is replaced with not-p rather than being contradicted by it), but even then problems of incoherence still persist. This paper also shows a connection between debates on the constitutionality of interpretive canons and the descriptive accuracy of linguistic theories of interpretation.

Keywords: Legal Interpretation, Interpretive Canons, Canons of Construction, Public Law

JEL Classification: K00, K10

Suggested Citation

Tan, David, The Problem of Interpretive Canons (May 15, 2023). (2023) 44(1) Statute Law Review (Forthcoming), Available at SSRN:

David Tan (Contact Author)

Deakin University, Geelong, Australia - Deakin Law School ( email )

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics