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Prof. Dr. Spaak: Legal Positivism and the Normativity of Law

I. Videostream

II. Beschreibung

Herr Prof. Torben Spaak (Uppsala Universität)

wird am 30. November 2011 um 18 Uhr c.t.

zum Thema

Legal Positivism and the Normativity of Law

F r o m  K e l s e n  t o  M a r m o r  a n d  S h a p i r o



Zur Person:

Torben Spaak ist Professor der Rechtswissenschaften an der Uppsala Universität. Er unterrichtete an der Minnesota Law School und war Gastprofessor in Buenos Aires, Genua und Minneapolis. Er ist Mitglied der schwedischen Sektion der Internationalen Vereinigung für Rechts- und Sozialphilosophie. Sein Forschungs- und Interessenschwerpunkt liegt im Bereich der analytischen Rechtswissenschaft, wobei er sich besonders auch um die Erschließung des skandinavischen Rechtsrealismus verdient gemacht hat. Zu seinen Monographien zählen „The Concept of Legal Competence“ (1994) und „Guidance and Constraint. The Action-Guiding Capacity of Theories of Legal Reasoning” (2007). Daneben treten eine Vielzahl von Beiträgen zu Grundfragen der Rechtstheorie. Zur Zeit arbeitet er an einer Monographie zum Problem der Natur des Rechts.


In this presentation, I discuss the problem of the normativity of law conceived within the framework of legal positivism, that is, the problem of accounting within this framework for the sense, if any, in which law confers rights and duties, or, if you will, provides normative reasons for action.
I begin by explaining how I understand the problem of the normativity of law. I suggest (i) that we think of the function of the legal ‘ought’ as that of connecting the consequence with the condition(s) in a legal norm, as Kelsen does, and of the relevant type of normative reason for action as external reasons in Bernard Williams’s sense. I then argue (ii) that there is only one sense of normativity, only one sense of ‘ought’, (iii) that we need to distinguish between different grades of normativity, at the very least between social and justified normativity (as Raz calls them), and (iv) that the relevant grade of normativity in this context is justified normativity.

I then turn to a consideration of the main tenets of legal positivism, namely the social thesis, the separation thesis, the thesis of social efficacy, and add a few words about the semantic thesis. And I explain what it is about legal positivism – namely the separation thesis – that makes it so difficult to come up with a satisfactory solution to this problem. I add a few words here about the logical relation between the social thesis and the separation thesis.

Having come thus far, I introduce the solution to the problem of law’s normativity proposed by Hans Kelsen, namely that legal positivists need to presuppose the basic norm, if and insofar as they wish to conceive of the legal materials as a system of valid, that is, binding, norms. I explain (i) that Kelsen operates with the idea of justified, not social, normativity, and emphasize (ii) that, on Kelsen’s analysis, the presupposition of the basic norm is conditional. I then maintain that a solution to the problem of legal normativity along the lines of Kelsen’s analysis is all that legal positivists can hope for, while acknowledging that this solution is widely thought to be no solution at all.

The presentation concludes with a consideration of two recent attempts to account for the normativity of law made by Scott Shapiro and Andrei Marmor, respectively. Whereas Shapiro maintains that law is first and foremost a social planning mechanism, and that a person who has legal authority has moral authority from the legal point of view, Marmor argues that the foundation of law is to be found in conventions of a certain type, namely constitutive conventions. I conclude, however, that neither author has been able to improve substantially on Kelsen’s analysis as regards the central question. On all three analyses, the upshot is that the normativity of law, conceived within the framework of legal positivism, can only be conditional upon the adoption of a certain, normative perspective or point of view. And this, I point out, is precisely what one should expect, given the centrality of the separation thesis in the positivistic framework.


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1. Abstract

2. Text "The Normativity of Law"