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422Philosophy and Literature tinction between the two. Posner thus makes his views on the status of textual meaning quite clear: on the interpretation oflegal texts, he is an "intentionalist," positing a determinate meaning fixed at the time of writing in the mind of the writer; this, he contends, is in contrast to the meanings of literary texts which are free (or at least freer) of such constraints. The basis for this distinction is not itself argued, although Posner explains why it would be useful to interpret legal texts by authorial intention ifthat were possible. Legal interpretation, he asserts, has more urgent consequences than literary interpretation—"unhampered by command responsibility, the author ofa literary work need not strive for a clear statement" (p. 240). It is thus more important that the meaning oflegal texts should be fixed and accessible. But the limitations on intentional interpretation asserted in recent literary theory and hermeneutics refer to what is possible, not to what is desirable—and on the former issue, Posner is consistendy vague. He concedes that the interpretation of intentions which underlie legal texts often concludes in reasonable disagreement (e.g., in applying the Eighth Amendment's rejection of"cruel and unusual punishment")—but he evidendy does not believe that this has any theoretical implications. And the paradigmatic example he proposes of a legal text interpreted intentionally—the settling of an unlikely conflict about a contract for the sale of frankincense at $100 a pound—hardly supports his more general claim. One might well ask why it would be necessary here to speak ofintentions at all, when the words are quite plain. By the end of his account, it is clear that Posner's emphasis on intentionalist interpretation is in fact an assertion of a broader principle, claiming both the fixity and determinacy of meaning. Given the long history of disputes about this issue, it would be unfair to fault Posner for not having setded them. But his thesis specifically argues that meaning in legal texts has a different status from that ofmeaning in literary texts—and the failure to establish this, it seems, is also specifically his. He does not, by the way, tell us whether his own text is legal or literary or somediing other than these—and it is unclear from his writing what his intentions about this are. State University of New York at AlbanyBerel Lang The Fate ofReason: German Philosophyfrom Kant to Fichte, by Frederick C. Beiser; 395 pp. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987, $32.50. When we think of the history of philosophy as a sequence of "great names" progressing from Leibniz, Locke, and Hume straightto Kant, Fichte, and Hegel, we seldom ask ourselves what actually happened between those monumental Reviews423 peaks. Beiser seeks to correct this picture by focusing on a forgotten chapter in the history of German philosophy—the years between the appearance of Kant's first Kritik in 1781 and Fichte's Wissenschaftslehre in 1794. He argues persuasively that this "most fertile and revolutionary" period played a crucial role not only in shaping the development of Kantian philosophy, but also in preparing the ground for the revival of metaphysics toward the end of the century. A major portion of the book is devoted to a remarkably detailed and penetrating analysis ofthe Pantheismusstreii, a debate which for several years engaged the greatest minds of the time, including Hamann, Herder, Goethe, Winzenmann , Reinhold, and Kant. What began in 1783 as a "private quarrel" between Jacobi and Mendelssohn concerning the nature of Lessing's religious beliefs, soon turned into a public controversy which challenged the authority ofreason itself and "shook the Aufklärung to its very foundations" (p. 46). If Kant succeeded in defending reason's crumbling authority against Jacobi's charge of atheism by limiting its claims to make room for faith, his victory was precarious and short-lived. With the focus of attention shifting from Spinoza to Kant in the wake of the pantheism controversy, the "critical philosophy" became the major target for an increasing number of "metacritical" objections. Ironically, it was neither Jacobi's charge of atheism, nor the numerous attacks from the Wolffians and Lockeans, but—as Beiser argues in the second part...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 422-424
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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