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Legal hermeneutics

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-T016-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved April 20, 2024, from

Article Summary

Legal hermeneutics studies the interpretation and meaning of written law. By way of contrast with the related discipline of forensic rhetoric, the study of oral argumentation and persuasion in court, legal hermeneutics is best defined as a textual discipline which dates back to the classical codifications of Greek and Roman law. While the term hermeneutics is derived from the messenger god Hermes and is used by Aristotle as the title of a work concerned with the logic of interpretation, Peri hermeneias, legal hermeneutics really only developed with the growth and medieval reception of Roman law. The Roman legal tradition was pre-eminently a tradition of ius scriptum or written law, of codes and codifications. The custody, interpretation and transmission of the great texts of Roman law gave rise to an exemplary discipline of hermeneutics. Its task was that of preserving, collating, translating and applying the archaic, foreign (Latin) and fragmentary texts of the legal tradition to contemporary and vernacular circumstances far removed in time and space from the original contexts of the written law. In later eras and particularly in periods of crisis or renewal of the legal tradition, the problems of text, interpretation and meaning in law have led to the revival of the concerns and traditions of legal hermeneutics.

Citing this article:
Goodrich, Peter. Legal hermeneutics, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-T016-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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