Intention of the Legislator

In law, the argument of the legislator’s intention (or teleological argument) is based not on the strict literal meaning of the law as actually expressed, but on the intention of the legislator, that is the social and historical context of the legislative act, the kind of problems the legislator wanted to address, and the solution he or she wanted to achieve. This form of argumentation is recognized as relevant, S. Juridical Logic; Strict Meaning.

1. Historical argument, genetic argument, psychological argument

The intention of the legislator can be established by an historical, or genetic argument, using the data provided by the history of the law. This history is known by the preparatory works, the “whereas” section of the law, the parliamentary debates having led to the drafting of this law, and so on. When relying on the previous state of legislation, the historical argument assumes that the legislator is conservative and that the new texts must be interpreted in the context of the legal tradition (presumption of continuity of law).

The intention of the legislator can also be sought in reference to the spirit of the law: one will then speak of a psychological argument (Tarello, quoted in Perelman 1979, 58).

2. General principles of interpretation

The scope of this class of arguments extends beyond the legal field. They can be used in relation with any written standards, when the institution recognizes the validity of an argument based not on the letter of the text but on the intention of the author. For example, in the philosophical or literary field, the interpretation of a text can appeal to the author’s intention, which is itself based on preparatory work and historical data (notes, manuscripts, declarations of the author), or on psychological data (the spirit of the work and the author’s mind at the time, as understood by the interpreter).

Such arguments are considered fallacious in structuralist literary analysis, which advocates an immanent approach of literary texts, S. Fallacy (I).