The thought, then, contained in a statute may mean any thought that can be found in it, so that a statute may contain two, three, five, or any number of thoughts, any one of which may possibly be the correct one. The principles of interpretation, therefore, must be fit to help us not merely to find the possible thoughts concealed in the text, but also to select from all possible thoughts found the correct one. There are various tests by which to distinguish the correct thought. Formerly, when I had looked at the matter exclusively from the point of view above described as the first one, I believed that the decisive criterion was the intention, and that the intention in the mind of the legislator could be discovered, more or less definitely, from the motives of those who had promoted the passing of the statute. I no longer believe that this is the most important consideration, although I do not deny that a certain importance attaches to this point of view.
The principal consideration is rather this: Among the possible interpretations of the statute we are to select that which gives to it the most reasonable and salutary meaning, and which will produce the most beneficial effect. It is hardly necessary to justify this proposition; for it is self-evident that legal life prospers best where statutes have the most rational and efficient meaning. The main business of legal science should be to serve legal practice by making the law reasonable. This truth has been obscured by making an idol of subjective interpretation. When this misconception is removed, the truth appears clearly enough. Only when, from this point of view, several meanings are conceivable so that beneficial results may be expected from one interpretation as well as from another-only then will it be necessary to trace the connections of the various statutory provisions and to prefer that interpretation which will make the statute most consistent with itself and most organically constructed in detail. In such cases we shall have to pay particular attention to the proper relations of the various provisions found in the whole body of the law of the country. For a salutary state of the law means that the several statutes dovetail into each other rather than present a scattering mass of unrelated provisions.
If even this is not sufficient to obtain a clear result, it will be permissible to consider the purpose the law has in view and to inquire what objects, fears, and desires were agitating the community at the time when the law was adopted in order to supply a want felt by society. This also is proper enough; for it is quite right that whenever the other ways of interpretation do not satisfy us we should adopt an interpretation which is not only the most reasonable but which also comes nearest to what the statute had in view.