Legal Theory 7 (4):447-465 (2001)

Natalie Stoljar
McGill University
"My argument is as follows. In the first section, I sketch briefly the ways in which intentionalism might provide a solution to the problem of vagueness. The second section describes the different areas in which counterfactuals must be invoked by intentionalism. In the third section I point out that on a classic analysis of counterfactuals - that of David Lewis and Robert Stalnaker - the truth conditions of counterfactuals depend on relations of similarity among possible worlds. Since similarity is vague, so are counterfactuals. Finally, I show that there is no unique solution to the problem of vagueness for the specific types of counterfactuals required by intentionalists - those referring to authors' or legislators' mental states, and those attempting to transport historical authors into the present. Although some counterfactuals are relatively 'insensitive' - in Lewis's sense -- those required in intentionalist interpretation are at least moderately sensitive. This means taht different contexts will resolve the vagueness in different ways. The choice among contexts must be made by the interpreter and is not determined by author's intentions. Hence the vagueness due to counterfactual reasoning about author's intention leads to indeterminacies that cannot be resolved by intentionalism itself. Intentionalism is a solution neither to the problem of vagueness nor to the problem of indeterminacy." Distinguishes between strict intentionalism and moderate intentionalism. Both are often seen as a means for reducing vagueness in legal language. However, counterfactual intentions are needed to resolve certain problems. First, in combining actual intentions, e.g. in a legislature, where different combinations may result in different legislation. Second, it is needed to resolve conflicts between intentions, particularly between different levels of abstraction. Third, reducing vagueness, which will be necessary even with enactment intentions. Fourth, there may be no determinate intention that would even, in principle, resolve a borderline case - e.g. when intentions are conflated. [For discussion of application and enactment intentions, see Goldsworthy, "Originalism in Constitutional Interpretation," Federal Law Review 25: 1.] Lastly, counterfactuals may be necessary to distinguish between application and enactment intentions. Lewis on counterfactuals: "For Lewis and Stalnaker, the key idea in the explication of truth conditions of counterfactuals is that of 'comparative overall similarity' of possible worlds. A counterfactual is true if and only if in the closest, most similar world to the actual in which the antecedent of the conditional is true, the consequent of the conditional is also true." Thus, there may be a determinate relevant world for some cases - i.e. there may be a counterfactual that determines the answer to a counterfactual question. This, however, will not always be the case. For example, counterfactuals concerning Caesar being the leader of N. Korea. Here, for Lewis, where there are ties of closeness of counterfactuals, all tied CFs will be false. When considering counterfactual intentions for the sake of interpretation, some may be determinate or insensitive. Normally, however, this will not be the case. "For intentionalism to resolve the matter of whether the regulation prohibiting vehicles prohibits toy cars as well, one of these counterfactuals must be true and the other false. Imagine a possible world in which the oncsideration of the borderline case is added to the authors' mental states. It is likely that connected belief will be affected as well. For example consideration of the aim of the regulation will occur as a consequence of the consideration of whether the regulation applies to the borderline case: Is ensuring peace and quiet in the park overriding, or are there exceptions to accommodate children's games? When there are changes in a constellation of men tal states, we will have to imagine a situation in whichh the legislators' beleifs are very different from what they in fact were. This creates at least a profound epistemological problem, because, as Dworkin puts it: "[it] has the effect of sharply reducing the amount of historical evidence that is relevant to answering the counterfactual." More important, however, in some worlds in which the legislators consider the case of a child's toy car, they will treat the peace and quiet purpose as overriding, whereas in others they will treat the children's play purpose as overriding. This means that different worlds will resolve the truth-value of the counterfactuals differently." "If I am right that counterfactual reasoning is ubiquitous in intentionalism, intentionalism suffers from an extra dimension of vagueness and is therefore at a disadvantage when measured against theories that do not rely on counterfactuals."
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DOI 10.1017/S1352325201704089
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