Interpretation and Meaning in the Renaissance: The Case of Law

Overview

It is a commonplace of modern scholarship that there was no general theory of language available to Renaissance thinkers, and that studies of grammar confined themselves for the most part to the investigation of formal features of language. However, no community can operate without some shared assumptions about meaning and its transmission; and it is manifest from the plethora of works of interpretation at this time--commentaries, translations, paraphrases, editions, epitomes--that the practice of conveying ...
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Overview

It is a commonplace of modern scholarship that there was no general theory of language available to Renaissance thinkers, and that studies of grammar confined themselves for the most part to the investigation of formal features of language. However, no community can operate without some shared assumptions about meaning and its transmission; and it is manifest from the plethora of works of interpretation at this time--commentaries, translations, paraphrases, editions, epitomes--that the practice of conveying significance was thriving, and giving rise to heated debates about correct interpretation in theology, law, medicine, philosophy and humanistic studies. This book investigates theories of interpretation and meaning in Renaissance jurisprudence. How do they relate to the institutions of the law, especially pedagogical institutions? What characterizes the most commonly adopted theories of the legal profession? In what form were they published? How do they relate to the principles of interpretation found in the trivium of grammar, dialectics and rhetoric? In what ways, if any, do they mark a departure from medieval approaches? How do they relate to modern canons of interpretation? And how do they relate to similar issues in modern semantics and the philosophy of language, such as speech act theory or the 'logic of the supplement'? An answer to these questions is sought through an investigation of Renaissance problems concerning the authority of interpreters, the questions of signification, definition, verbal propriety and verbal extension, the problem of cavillation, the alternative interpretative strategies of ratio legis and mens legislatoris, the performative functions of language, and custom and equity as means of interpretation. The theoretical issues raised are examined in the exemplary case of defamation.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...one must recognize the achievement of this book in restoring the field of Renaissance jurisprudence once more within the bounds of intellectual history, especially at a time that has largely forgotten how vast the sea of the oceanus iuris is; and at a number of points at issue he has thrown clearer light on both contemporary theories of language and those of the Renaissance." Sixteenth Century Journal

"Maclean has written a remarkably learned and penetrating study of legal interpretation." Times Literary Supplement

"This is a concise, difficult, but very clearly-written and well-structured book which wastes scarcely a word....Maclean provides an excellent introduction to the Humanist movement in legal studies, and its relationship with what went before and what came after." The Times Higher Education Supplement

"Maclean's careful application of humanist pedagogical principles, textual concerns, historical context, and rhetorical emphasis makes his work a valuable addition to the study of the influence of humanism on the intellectual institutions of the Renaissance." Canadian Journal of History

"...provides an effortlessly erudite reading of the doctrinal development of theories of juridical interpretation." Law and History Review

"Ian Maclean's wide-ranging and probing study explores how Renaissance jurists understood the task of legal interpretation and what explicit or implicit theories about language, signification, and meaning informed their undertaking." Charles L. Stinger, American Historical Review

"He succeeds through scrupulous attention to his critical stance, careful consideration of the interplay between text and context, and thorough mastery of the primary materials....The result is a fine, if somewhat disturbing, book that is both important and suggestive. It is important in that it brings to light, as it sets out to, a body of texts that produces ample yield. It is suggestive in that it alerts us, as do all good books, to the possibilities for similar studies of other eras and other disciplines." Sean Patrick O'Rourke, Rhetorica

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521020275
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 7/31/2005
  • Series: Ideas in Context Series , #21
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.59 (d)

Table of Contents

List of illustrations
Acknowledgements
Notes on the presentation of the text
Introduction 1
1 Contexts 12
The study of Roman law in the Middle Ages and Renaissance 13
Law and its status in the universities 19
Legal texts: genres, production, presentation, distribution 30
Justinian's prohibition of commentary and its interpretation 50
The defence of legal pedagogy 59
2 Interpretation and the arts course 67
Grammar 70
Logic and dialectics 72
Topics and rhetoric 75
Interpretation in theology and medicine 82
The development of legal pedagogy 83
3 Theories of interpretation and meaning 87
The self-evident text 89
Authority and interpretation 91
Signification, reference, evidence and its interpretation 95
The method 103
Definition, etymology, division 104
Modes of interpretation: declarative, extensive, restrictive 114
Words and things: propriety, ambiguity, usage 125
Cavillation: interpretation in bad faith 135
Legal fictions 138
Literal, subjective and objective meaning: verba, mens legislatoris and ratio legis 142
Illocutionary and perlocutionary force: performatives 158
Nonlinguisitc interpretation: custom and equity 171
4 Parallels and examples 179
Suarez 179
England 181
Semantics and the law of slander 186
Conclusion 203
Bibliography of primary sources 215
Index of citations from the Corpus Furis Civilis 226
Index of names 229
Index of terms 236
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