The Journal of Contemporary Legal Issues


Scott Soames


The chief problem posed in Multimember Legislative Bodies and Intended Meaning is one in which lawmakers pass a tax bill supported by two equal groups with conflicting interpretations of the bill’s content. One believes it taxes imported tomatoes, among other things; the other believes it exempts tomatoes. They disagree because they received supposedly authoritative, but in fact conflicting, information about the meaning of “fruit” in the bill’s text. One group was told it is used with its biological sense, which includes tomatoes as edible seed-bearing reproductive parts of a plant. The other group was told that “fruit” is used with its culinary sense, in which fruits are contrasted with vegetables, including tomatoes. The bill is understood as taxing imported fruits but not vegetables. Our problem is to decide how the tax applies to a shipment of tomatoes and kiwis. My answer will follow from the answer to the question What did the lawmakers assert or stipulate in passing the bill?—which can be illuminated by answering an analogous question about what action two employers instruct an employee to take.





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