I reached that part of my life where there's a growing urgency to follow the treads of Dr. Bucephalus and retreat to study the books of law. However, while RnRSes are beautifully written documents that are a pleasure to read, most other formal documents that I have came across are better described as an amalgam of underspecified statements and paradoxical contradictions. Since I have never received proper education in this matter and my online research ended fruitless, I am now turning to you for your wisdom and guidance. Is there a method to this madness? How are we to study formal documents?
Have you tried to read the Lambda Papers or do they fall under what you call "an amalgam of underspecified statements and paradoxical contradictions"?
Not yet. But they are academic papers and I have read plenty of those. It's easy to find guidance on reading them. A prime example of what I was talking about is the POSIX shell specification.
There was a time when I thought that reading software standard specification documents (e.g. RFC, IEEE, ISO, ect) should be the most effective way to learn about a particular class of software systems. Then I tried to read one. It turns out that some of them are nice. Some. Few. The rest (i.e. most, according to my sample) are as you (>>1) described: an amalgam of underspecified statements.
I think that they should, beyond merely agreeing on what the standard according to the convention is, make an effort to write up a few (as per various classes of individuals for whom it may be relevant) mutually consistent (according to the interpretations of the respective target audiences) ``introductions'' to it; this would aid adoption, this innovation. (Maybe we should write up a document consisting of an amalgam of underspecified statements, published as a proposal to amend the standards committees.)