Fitchburg facts

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  1. The Wisconsin Supreme Court case is basically over a question of legal hermeneutics.

    Let me put this in mathematical terms. Suppose a paper has a sloppy misstatement of the form mathematicians usually call a “typo”. Is the meaning of the sentence containing the misstatement what is actually written, or is the meaning of the sentence its obvious correction? Is this statement an actual mistake in the paper, or is there no mistake but a badly written sentence or paragraph?

    In a piece of mathematics, this is a silly semantic argument, but the answer to this question has real consequences for laws (and – for the religious – passages in Scripture). Are we supposed to apply literally a badly written piece of legislation (assuming it’s not so badly written that this is impossible), or should we apply the “obvious” correction? Those who argue in favor of the “obvious” correction would argue that the legislators could not have intended the ridiculous consequences the law read literally would create; those who argue for the literal reading would argue that an “obvious” correction might not be actually so obvious.

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