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REASONING FROM CANONICAL LEGAL TEXTS
as enough rule makers for passage would have voted for the rule even if it did not apply in the area of disagreement, the core area of overlap-
ping intended meanings is the enacted rule, and the fringes without the backing of sufficient overlapping intended meanings are not within
To illustrate this possibility, suppose that groups A and B make up a majority of the legislature, and they enact a rule that A intends to outlaw
X and Y and B intends to outlaw X and Z. If neither A nor B is of sufficient size to constitute a majority of those voting aye, but both A and B would
approve of a rule outlawing only X and not Y or Z, then the rule has a core meaning, namely, that of outlawing X.
In both of the preceding examples, the multimember character of the rule maker does not defeat the attribution of an intended meaning for
the rule, though in the second example the rule is more truncated than many intended. However, a third type of example raises real problems
for intentionalism. Imagine that the legislative body that enacts the “no bears” rule is comprised of three legislators, A, B, and C. C voted against
the “no bears” rule on the ground that it devalued liberty and property relative to physical security. A and B voted for it. A believed that pandas are
bears and intended the rule to cover them. Had pandas been excepted, A would have voted against the rule as unfair to owners of declawed,
defanged, friendly black bears. On the other hand, B believed the rule did not cover pandas, pandas not falling within his intended meaning
of “bears.” Had B believed pandas were included, he would have voted against the rule. “Who could be so cold or unreasonably fearful as to
ban the cute and gentle panda?” A and B did not clarify whether pandas were within the rule before voting.
The results of this disagreement are these. The rule “no bears” admits of two relevant possible meanings: “No bears, including pandas, are
allowed” and “No bears, except pandas, are allowed.” Although the “no bears” rule itself passed two to one, each of its possible meanings would
have been rejected by two-to-one votes. The “no bears” rule has no core of intended meaning that would have been supported by enough
legislators for enactment. Neither legislator has been granted authority by the community to settle by herself what the rule should be.
On our view, the “no bears” rule is only apparently meaningful but not actually so. It is no different from the case where a term in a
rule is ambiguous and has two nonoverlapping definitions, and some
INFELICITIES OF THE INTENDED MEANING
legislators intend one meaning and the others intend the alternative meaning. Consider: “No canards are allowed in the park,” where C
votes against the rule on libertarian grounds; A votes for it intending one meaning for “canards” – ducks; and B votes for it intending another
meaning – lies. The rule can only mean either “no ducks” or “no lies,” and neither meaning has the backing of a majority.
If we assume that only the intended meaning of a legislative majority regarding what law subjects are obligated to do is authoritative for those
subjects, then in these kinds of cases, an apparently meaningful rule is in reality no more meaningful than potential signs produced accidentally –
that is, without any intention to signify anything. Monkeys on typewrit- ers, cloud formations, and spilled ink may make what might appear to
be words in some natural language. But if the monkeys, the clouds, or the spilled ink produced the shapes c, a, t, it would be odd to ask if that
means a tabby, any feline, or a jazz musician. Although it could mean any of those – indeed, it could mean almost anything given infinite pos-
sible languages with infinite possible ways to signify meanings – without the backing of someone’s intended meanings, those unintended shapes
have no meaning at all. They are evidence of natural processes, but they are not bearers of meaning.
Our pathological account of the “no bears” rule renders it no different from the natural products of typing monkeys, clouds, and spilled ink.
Once we know the intended meanings of A and B, it is a category mistake to ask what the rule means. A’s own rule is meaningful, as is B’s; but their
jointly produced rule is not.