The Interpretation of Plans

Part of the Law and Philosophy Library book series (LAPS, volume 126)


In his contribution, Scott Shapiro makes reference, within the framework of his theory of law as a plan, to the problem of legal disagreements. Shapiro emphasizes the relevance of social facts while refusing the requirement of interpretive conventions. Like Dworkin, he understands that, in order to provide an explanation for theoretical disagreements, it is essential to take into consideration the purpose of legal practice. In addition, both agree that the most appropriate interpretive methodology in a legal system depends on which best fits its objectives. But, unlike Dworkin, Shapiro does not accept that the attribution of a purpose requires an exercise in moral and political philosophy, but just an inquiry related to social facts. In this sense, the task of the legal interpreter is to detect the political objectives that were intended by the designers of the system, so that the relevant purposes are those that explain the practice and not those that justify; as a consequence, they may be morally deficient. To uncover these objectives, the interpreter must analyse the institutional structure and determine which objectives and values best explain the system. The correct interpretive methodology for the system will be the methodology that best harmonizes with the objectives of those who designed it.


  1. Leiter B (2003) Beyond the Hart/Dworkin debate: the methodology problem in jurisprudence. Am J Jurisprud 48(1):17–51CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Shapiro S (2011) Legality. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar

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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Law FacultyYale UniversityNew HavenUSA

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