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"Fetch Some Soupmeat", 16 Cardozo L. Rev. 2209 (1995)


Although first published over 150 years ago, Francis Lieber's Legal and Political Hermeneutics remains broadly influential, and the soupmeat hypothetical in particular has been reproduced in the most widely read twentieth-century legal texts for teaching statutory interpretation. The directive, "fetch some soupmeat," seems straightforward in most situations, because the housekeeper and the servant are operating under the same assumptions, and because their shared assumptions are borne out as the servant goes about his task. Lieber's project-and the project of any sophisticated theoretical treatment of statutory interpretation-was to explore the many ways in which "fetch some soupmeat" proves susceptible to surprising interpretations. I should like to explore some variations of the hypothetical in order to demonstrate how Lieber's vividly written treatise both anticipated twentieth-century theories and suggested lines of deeper analyses than subsequent analysts have been able to do. On the one hand, Lieber appreciates the appeal of all the "foundational" theories of interpretation (one factor is the focus of the enterprise) and explicates these theories in strikingly familiar terms. On the other hand, Hermeneutics is eclectic and anti-foundational. Lieber's approach is on the whole most similar to a "practical reasoning" approach. I shall conclude, however, with a discussion of the ways in which current theorizing about statutory evolution has intellectually advanced beyond Lieber's approach.

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