Theories of Legal Interpretation
Three Levels of Interpretive Theory
There are at least three different “levels” at which theories of legal
interpretation can operate:
- Level One: Meta Theories of Interpretation—One
kind of theory examines questions like, “What does ‘interpretation’ mean?”
and “How is ‘interpretation’ possible?”
- Level Two: Normative Theories of Interpretation—A
second kind of theory addresses the normative question, “What should
legal interpretations aim at?” Among the answers to this question are: (a)
the morally best reading of the legal text; (b) the intentions of the
authors of the legal text, and (c) the plain meaning of the legal text.
- Level Three: Methodological Theories of
Interpretation—A third kind of theory aims to provide practical advice
to legal actors (judges, lawyers, administrative officials, and citizens)
about the techniques they can use to interpret various types of legal texts.
Such a theory in effect tells the judge, "Here's how you go about
interpreting a text."