The spirit of letters

So there I was, looking for something to write about, and coming up empty. And as happens so often in both my blogging and my daily life, Wil Wheaton saved the day. He shared a post from Tim O’Reilly which included a link to this on Google+ and some good commentary.

Quoth Tim:

We must remember that the patent system was supposed to “promote the progress of science and the useful arts,” not to enrich people who know how to work the legal system.

I haven’t read the Wired link there because what caught my interest wasn’t patent trolls, but the strange duality we have between the letter and the spirit of the law. I suppose to a degree this is unavoidable, simply the price of working with words, but it really is a strange thing to me that we see arguments over what a law says versus what it means.

I’ve been told that at least one country includes, after the actual text of a law, an essay explaining the spirit in which that particular law was intended. Can’t remember which one that was, and I don’t even know how I could verify that anyways. But it’s a neat idea.

I was thinking maybe every constitution needs a sort of mission statement, a statement of principles that are the guidelines for interpreting laws when there’s any ambiguity or uncertainty. Which is a nice idea, but I don’t see a realistic way to make it work in a free society. I mean, unless you basically had it dictated by a… I’m going to say “monarch”, you’re going to wind up with a huge document filled with loopholes and things. Which makes the whole concept redundant at best, and probably just more legal chaff clogging things up.

So perhaps what really needs to be kept in mind is that laws are about people, and should be to serve people. That seems to be surprisingly easy to forget, at least for some people.

I’m not really happy with this post, I’d like to think some more and rewrite it. But my deadline approaches, and I’m tired.

About Leo Tarvi

Mostly fictional.

Posted on February 10, 2012, in Daily Post and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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