Instructor(s): Timothy Endicott

For graduate students, the course number is LAW5020HF.

Course Location: Please see the "Intensive Course Schedule" under Schedules and Timetables

Note: Students may enroll in an intensive course that conflicts with a regular course as an exception to the general rule that students may not take courses which conflict on the timetable. Attendance at intensive courses is mandatory for the duration of the course and takes precedence over regular courses.

This course provides an introduction to the philosophy of interpretation and to the role of interpretation in law and adjudication. We will start with a historical introduction to the distinction between interpretive and equitable reasoning in the common law tradition. The English judges’ understanding of legal interpretation underwent a double inversion as they began in the sixteenth century to assert jurisdiction to interpret legislation. At the same time, they were beginning to disavow their medieval jurisdiction to create exceptions to statute on grounds of equity. We will ask if the modern approach disguises departures from the law as interpretation, as Jeremy Bentham thought. Does the widely-accepted role of judges as interpreters cover up the exercise of dispensing and reforming power? We will address that question through particular problems in the law of contracts and wills and in statute law and constitutional law, and we will ask whether common law reasoning itself is best seen as a form of interpretation. Finally, we will ask whether law ought to be understood as a practice that empowers public authorities and private actors to make law by communicative acts (which may need interpretation in particular circumstances), or whether law is best understood as an inherently interpretive practice.

Students will be required to write a paper of 2500 to 3000 words. Papers must be delivered to the Records Office by 4:00 p.m. on Thursday, October 19, 2017.

At a Glance

First Term


20 JD


Monday, September 18, 2017: 10:30 - 12:20
Tuesday, September 19, 2017: 2:10 - 4:00
Wednesday, September 20, 2017: 12:30 - 2:00
Thursday, September 21, 2017: 8:30 - 10:20
Monday, September 25, 2017: 2:10 - 4:00
Tuesday, September 26, 2017: 12:30 - 2:00
Wednesday, September 27, 2017: 4:10 - 6:00
Thursday, September 28, 2017: 10:30 - 12:20