Spelunceans II Notes for February 24

Main points

Keen and Handy were our subjects this time.


Keen thinks the law is found in the plain meaning of the written law. His opinion is a more sophisticated version of the philosophy of law articulated by Truepenny. The main difference between them is that Keen is more strict about the role of the judiciary. He thinks that Truepenny’s request for clemency from the Chief Executive was out of line. Of course, he said essentially the same thing himself, but he was at pains to insist that he was speaking only as a private citizen and not as a judge.

We spent a fair amount of time discussing Keen’s view that the law is found the plain meaning of statutes and nothing else. The point of showing how the OED defines “willfully” was to inject doubt about whether there is a single plain meaning.

The most natural place to turn is past court cases, as Tatting does. It’s an interesting question why they are specially relevant to what the law is, above the other possible sources for information about what the word “willfully” might mean in this context.


Handy thinks the question “what is the law?” is less important than others. The questions “what is the just thing to do?” and “what is the right way to settle a particular case?” are far more important, in his opinion.

Handy thinks judges should draw on common sense and popular opinion in order to answer these questions. I said that those two methods could be separated from one another. There are many cases where popular opinion does not favor common sense, after all. Of course, that would be to adopt a different view of the role of the law and judiciary in the government than Handy has.

Looney Toons

The name of the song is “Hello Ma Baby” though it’s also known as the Telephone Rag. Two year olds love it. Lyrics extravagently typeset here. Information about the song and cartoon here and here. The title of the cartoon is “One Froggy Evening” and, yes, some enterprising soul has put it on YouTube.

This page was written by Michael Green for Philosophy of Law, Philosophy 34, Spring 2010. It was posted February 24, 2010.
Name of website