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Law, normativity and the model of norms

By G. Pavlakos

Abstract

There exists a widespread consensus amongst contemporary jurisprudents, positivists and non-positivists alike, that the meaning of ‘obligation’ should not radically shift from law to morality, or any of the other domains of practical reason. Yet there is limited effort in contemporary discussions of legal obligation to engage with the metaphysics of normativity with an eye to a well-founded account of those elements that deliver its non-conditional character.\ud On a recent occasion I discussed the shortcomings of a prominent positivist account of legal obligation, that of Jules Coleman. In this chapter I turn to a prominent non-positivist account, the model of principle, and argue that, even though it identifies key elements or conditions of normativity simpliciter, it stops short of delivering a conclusive account of unconditional legal obligation, an account that would place legal obligation in the same continuum with all other types of obligation. Taking up from where the model of principle halts, I propose a complementary—if more fundamental—account of normativity simpliciter, which I dub the model of norms. I make a case for it, by looking into universal conditions of normativity and, in conclusion, offer some more specific remarks about the advantages of the model of norms over other competing models.\ud Part 2 looks into the account of legal obligation tendered by the model of principle. According to it, law is an instance of action-directing action or action that purports to get other agents to comply with the ends it sets out to attain. The idea here is that the very logic of action-direction draws moral reasons—principles—into the picture of legal obligation, as the one item that can explain how and whether the facts of a social practice, which purports to direct action, come to acquire the status of reasons for action for the subjects of law. Subsequently, this model is contrasted with an alternative model of obligation that takes facts of authority to constitute reasons of action in virtue solely of their structure. In conclusion it is argued that, in contrast to the second model, the model of principle manages to capture what is distinctive about action-directing action in the domain of law—that is, the special normative significance of the possibility to coerce others under a scheme of public institutions.\ud Part 3 opens by pointing to a more widespread worry that needs to be addressed before the model of principle can be deemed fit for the role it is employed—the worry relates to the ability of principles to constitute genuine reasons for action. In particular, the enquiry investigates the nature of principles and their ability to avoid certain flaws that might pertain to reasons for action in general. In taking up this line of enquiry the paper looks into the more general debate on normativity with a view to specifying requirements that anything which purports to be a reason ought to meet. I employ a rationalist analysis of normativity, which brings the idea that intentional thought is normative to bear on the analysis of the meaning of normative terms, such as ‘ought’, ‘obligation’, ‘duty’. In conclusion, I argue that the content of normativity consists in normative facts—ie norms—which purport to model the content of ideal—or counterfactual—states of the will. Such norms give exhaustively the content of normativity.\ud In light of the above, part 4 advances a two-layered model of norms, with the higher level being populated by norms simpliciter, and the lower by norms in a domain. When considered jointly the two layers ground the possibility of non-conditional obligation without evoking moral realism and the concomitant suspicion of scepticism. On the face of it some key advantages of the model of norms are discussed over the two other models of legal obligation, that of principle and that of authority. On the one hand norms resist the ‘talking past each other objection’ which is commonly levelled against principles. On the other, norms are much better suited to account for the moral limits of action-directing action than either principles or facts of authority, for they illustrate cogently that the grounds of any reason for action already include a concern for others’ autonomy

Topics: B1, K1
Publisher: Hart Publishing
Year: 2011
OAI identifier: oai:eprints.gla.ac.uk:45933
Provided by: Enlighten

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