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Words and Music: Some Remarks on Statutory Interpretation, 47 Columbia Law Review 1259 (1947)


Centuries ago, Aristotle illuminatingly discussed the problems of statutory interpretation. When judges today grumble that invariably their difficulty in learning the meaning of statutes is the fault of the legislature, they should be told to recall that long ago he wrote that on many subjects a wise legislature will deliberately use vague and flexible standards. Most of the modern expositions of legislative construction are but restatements, with here and there a bit of embroidery, of what Aristotle said. For instance, recent essays on "gaps" in legislation, on "unprovided cases," and on the "equity" of a statute, rely on sources which in turn are glosses on passages in the Stagarite's writings. That despite the centuries of discussion we still have no precise answers to these and cognate problems stems from the fact that statutory interpretation is not a science but an art.

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