This is about self-reference and law (which in addition to being stated several times in the article is also the title).
By: Barry Belmont

This is about self-reference and law (which in addition to being stated several times in the article is also the title). Self-reference, I contend, is when a sentence or a formula points at itself or uses itself as either its conclusion or starting point, such as saying that the “I” of this sentence in fact refers to this sentence. I, the article, will use the device of self-reference as a means to explain a certain point about self-reference and law. The sentence which you have just begun reading has finished by explaining to you that the purpose of this article is to highlight the dilemma in legal systems that can summarily be put as “Can a legislature pass a law it cannot amend?” It, the article, will show–all the while using itself as an example–that it, the dilemma, is crucial to our understanding of Law insofar as it, both the article and the dilemma taken individually, cannot be wholly understood from within itself. It can be argued, though it won’t (or will it?), that this article would be considerably better if its actual author were replaced by the one whose ideas he is intrigued by, namely Peter Suber, whose book The Paradox of Self-Amendment: A Study of Law, Logic, Omnipotence, and Change is what you should read instead of the rest of this article, had written it.

As an example of what the previous sentence purports, this article would likely have included Suber’s description of the problem of self-amendment, “Some legal rules govern the change of other legal rules. But even these “rules of change” (as Hart calls them) are changeable, usually by higher level rules of change. When a rule of change is supreme within its own system (as a constitutional rule of change probably is), then it is changeable, if at all, only under its very own authority. The paradox of self-amendment arises when a rule is used as the authority for its own amendment. It is sharper when the rule of change is supreme, sharper still when it is changed into a form that is inconsistent with its original form, and sharpest of all when the change purports to be irrevocable.” in addition to, or perhaps in place of, some other description the author thought of.

This is about self-reference and law (which in addition to being stated several times in the article is also the title). But this is also about the mischief the author perceives is possible when engaging in self-reference. Using sentences, such as this one, in articles, such as this one, to highlight instances, such as this one, where in the exact same words or word, phrases or phrase, such as this one, mean exactly the same thing in theory but in context, such as this one, have drastically different consequences is an effective tool, the author believes and with which I happen to agree, to emphasize that we do not live in a logical vacuum and where all rules must be flexible. Is it oxymoronic to have insisted that flexibility must be a “must” in the previous sentence? Did the author mean to use “ironic” instead of “oxymoronic” in the last sentence? Would Suber have even asked these last three sentences in the article he wrote?

Though, when you first began this sentence ten words ago, you may not have given any thought to the notion that legal philosopher Alf Ross holds should be true of any legal system, that that which is logically impossible must be legally impermissible, I guarantee by the end of it in, three words from now, you will have. What do you think of this? What did “this” mean in that question? How did you know? Who are you and why are you reading me? What is this all about? This is about self-reference and law (which in addition to being stated several times in the article is also the title).

Remember when we were thinking about what this article would be like if its author were replaced by a better author earlier in this article? Oh those were the days, and we even included an example “The principle that what is logically impossible must be legally impossible may be philosophically arrogant and ignorant of legal history, but it is not a simple mistake. It is a new variation on the theme of natural law. Instead of finding that human law depends for its validity on an eternal moral law, this version makes it depend on an eternal logical law. One of the most persistent and persuasive objections to traditional natural law theory applies as well to the new version. If human law can be immoral without ceasing to be law, it seems it can be illogical without ceasing to be law. Law has its own tests of what is law, and those tests validate much that is immoral and illogical. To decide that a transcendent moral or logical test supersedes the legal tests, and can invalidate what is otherwise law and validate or enact what is otherwise utterly tacit, is to transform law into morality or logic and unduly diminish its historical and social dimensions. It is to assert that law reflects human thought and community only at their best and never also at their worst. It is to assert that somehow this human construction has had an immaculate conception, and is never touched by human unreasonableness, historical contingency, and interest.” that showed how much better it would have…wait a minute, that putz of an author this article has copied and pasted something different into the quotes and is refusing, nay, has refused to change it.

But can our all-knowing, all-powerful author really be as inflexible as that? Indeed, the question to be asked is “How can any system, such as God or the author or constitutional amending powers, which is to be omnipotent, irrevocably limit itself?” The next question to be asked is “Has it been?” but that is an entirely related interest which should end at that period. Has it been? What about now? Remember: This is about self-reference and law (which in addition to being stated several times in the article is also the title). So, in context, such as this one, is it possible to make a rule that is effectively unchangeable, for instance by included a clause that says “this law (which is a part of system A) be unchangeable (by system A)”? Consider for yourself, can an author refuse to change an article even once the author “has refused to change it” written inside of it?

The author would like to remind you at this point that we do not live in a logical vacuum and to prove this will assert that we do live in a logical vacuum. He’ll show you again by asking you again “can an author refuse to change an article even once the author “has refused to change it” written inside of it?” in the next sentence. Not this one, the next one. Can an author refuse to change an article even once the author “has refused to change it” written inside of it? Did he or did he not show you his point and how could you possibly tell one way or another? I suspect this has something to do with showing that even though a law may state it cannot be changed or possibly even claim to be immutable, in reality, which is not a logical vacuum (logical vacuum meaning throughout this article, even though this is the last time it will be used, that there exists only logical operations with no logical inconsistencies), this is not only not so but can never be so.

This sentence claims the following paragraph has no meaning outside of this article. This sentence claims the previous sentence is false while claim the sentence that follows is true. This sentence claims that the first sentence of this paragraph is true. This paragraph, this sentence claims, shows that within the context of a law or article or paragraph, certain things may make sense but if taken out of their actual context or improperly juxtaposed or its meaning extracted by inappropriate means (such as imagining if Peter Suber had written this parenthetical comment), then it will quickly fall into Quine’s paradox of “yields falsehood when preceded by its quotation” yields falsehood when preceded by its quotation. The author thus contends that unfortunately systems can only be understood within themselves and yet can only be understood outside themselves, the very flaw of all variations of formalism. Would you really know what the hell was meant by any of this if instead of this article you met all these sentences coming from the mouth of an unbathed individual on your local bus route? This sentence claims to be a segue to the next paragraph.

This sentence claims to be a segue from the previous paragraph. And though I have (and so has the author and so has the little neurons fleeting about your head and thus so have you, dear reader!) contended that this is about self-reference and law, it seems that I (and the author and you!) have strayed off of this topic. Would Peter Suber have done that? Though this counterfactual conditional may be a good rhetorical tool, I answer it by saying it cannot be answered. Has it been? I think Suber might have included “Central to many theories of democracy is the view that law is legitimate only when endorsed by the consent of the governed. [...] One of the most important and indicative manifestations of consent is the people’s willingness to use the mechanisms of legal change, especially the supreme power of constitutional amendment. [...] Use and non-use of the amending power will not really indicate consent unless the procedure is fair and neither too difficult nor too easy. But to change the fairness and difficulty of the amending procedure are virtually the only reasons to amend the amendment clause. Hence, self-amendment will almost always affect our ability to assess the people’s consent to be governed by their constitution and the people’s power to alter legal conditions to meet their consent.” though our current author might leave such sentiments out of the article completely.

Hence, this article concludes, that what cannot be allowed within a legal system is not logical inconsistencies but in fact immutable unacceptablities. The only rule that is unchangeable in any formal legal system is this one, “the only rule that is unchangeable in any formal legal system is this one, enclosed in quotes and placed in the middle of its own explication” enclosed in quotes and placed in the middle of its own explication. What that little linguistical flight of fancy is intended to show is that there is no such thing as an unchangeable law as that would mean that laws could be interpreted simply by that format rather than by their content. That would be like trying to understand an article about self-reference by only noting its self-referential nature! No author in his write mind wood right like that, especially won with an I four homophones, like the one making me right now. Oh, he finished me. In fragments.

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