Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Solum's Principle of Charitable Interpretation

Posted by Jeff Lipshaw

Over at Legal Theory Blog, in a discussion of a piece on the possibility of there being (or not being) a secular basis for morality, Larry Solum included the following personal note:

[I]t is my belief that even in scholarly discourse civility is a moral and political virtue.  Thus, I attempt (not always sucessfully) to apply the "principle of charity in interpretation" to the views of those with whom I disagree.  For example, I think it would be disrespectful to equate all religious views with the views of fanatics who reject the role of reason in discourse.  (For more context, my views have been influenced by Rawls on the virtue of civility in political liberalism.)

I agree that both civility and charity of interpretation are virtues to be adopted (defeasibly, by the way, and in those instances in which interpretation is necessary), but there is a consequential lesson for lawyers here as well.  One of the great failings of advocates and counselors is not to understand the other side, and, often, that the other side's position may be more compelling than one's own.  The principle of charitable interpretation makes one a better lawyer-advocate for being able to understand and respond to the heart of an argument, and it makes one a better lawyer-counselor for being able to help a client get beyond her own passion and see the world realistically.


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