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There are arguments at large about the nature of legal interpretation, proceeding from an implicit proposition that interpretation is the same phenomenon or experience whatever its setting. An assumption that there is one phenomenon can be found in discussions among lawyers of interpretation and in discussions among nonlawyers of legal interpretation-and as often in the work of those who would deny there is any significance to theorizing about interpretation, as of those who think persuasion to a particular theory will have the utmost consequence for law and society. Proceeding from such a proposition, rather than toward it, raises the risk that distinctive features of legal interpretation may be overlooked. If there is to be a common understanding or theory of interpretation it should not be built upon misinterpretation of the evidence. As examples from law appear more frequently in nonlegal settings, and nonlegal examples in discussion of law, distinctive features of legal interpretation are the more easily overlooked. These features are linked, but they may be roughly divided and treated under four headings. Some are more obvious than others. Some will be more obvious to lawyers than to nonlawyers, but it is an odd characteristic of current discussion that the reverse may also be true.


Published as Vining, Joseph. "Generalization in Interpretive Theory." Representations 30 (1990): 1-12. © 1990 by the Regents of the University of California. Copying and permissions notice: Authorization to copy this content beyond fair use (as specified in Sections 107 and 108 of the U. S. Copyright Law) for internal or personal use, or the internal or personal use of specific clients, is granted by the Regents of the University of California for libraries and other users, provided that they are registered with and pay the specified fee via Rightslink® or directly with the Copyright Clearance Center.