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The concept of legal normativity in the modern theory of law

Priority areas of development: law

The Hartian critique of the reductive accounts of law within the tradition of legal positivism has shifted the focus from the coercion to the normativity as the key feature of law. The basic problem with the Hartian concept of legal normativity lies in the equation of rules, reasons of conduct and practices, exemplifying them. A regularized pattern of behavior in a certain community is not a synonym for normative rule-governed pattern of behavior. In other words, the fact, that I go to the gym everyday at 8 A. M. does not eo ipsocreates for me a duty to do so the next day. One needs something else to add here in order to form a genuine normative commitment.

One other hand, genuine normative commitments can be generated not only by social practices, but also by individual convictions. Using the analogy from the moral theory, one distinguishes between conventional morality and morality by conviction. In the first case, the sole normative reason for my conduct is others do that in the same way. In the second case, I have a normative reason to do something, because I myself and independently of others feel obligated to do so. In both cases, we can achieve the convergence of behavior, but for different reasons.

Finally, the Hartian framework, at least in its initial form expressed in the first edition of " The Concept of Law", scarcely contains the theoretical description of how in the practice of the legal officials mutual normative commitments has been generated.

To narrow this gap several theoretical accounts has been developed within the framework of the Hartian tradition of the Philosophy of Law. In the current research we put two of them under the critical scrutiny: Legal Conventionalism and what we have labeled the deflationist theories of legal normativity.

The basic insight of the legal Conventionalism consists in the application of the game-theoretic and some other social scientific accounts within the legal theory. Put it in simple terms, the proponents of the Legal Conventionalism model legal reality as a Pure Coordination game in the sense of the game theory. There are two main versions of the theory of Legal Conventionalism. One models the whole legal system as a Pure Coordination game or the game Battle of Sexes. The most prominent partisans of the hypothesis are Eerik Lagerspetz, Gerald J. Postema. The other models only the law identifying and law applying behavior of the legal officials as a Pure Coordination game.

The strength of the Legal Conventionalism lies in its simplicity, elegance. Mutual normative commitments arise from mutual expectations, where each participant expect the others to behave in certain manner, and behaves that way herself solely or partly because other do so, and other know that and expect her to behave in that way.

Legal Conventionalism is harshly criticized within the positivistic tradition and this critique  (Leslie Green, Julie Dickson, Kenneth Himma) was extensively analyzed in this research.

Deflationist perspective of the legal normativity arises as a challenge to the Legal Conventionalism. The proponents of the deflationism criticize what they claim to be  an over-emphasis on the normativity concept in the Legal Conventionalism. They eliminate the justificatory aspect of common law identifying and law applying practices of legal officials. In other words, the concept of the normative reason-based behavior is inapplicable to the regularized common law identifying and law applying practices of the legal officials. Only those legal rules create particular legal normative commitments, which are valid. Legal validity creates legal normativity. Rules of recognition are not valid or invalid. Their mode of existence is practice. So, claim the proponents of the Deflationism, rules of recognitions is a practice and to state that a rule of recognition exists is simply to state the fact that it is practiced.

The principle intention of the deflationists is to avoid the risk of "mutation" of the Hartian normativity-based positivism into the moral theory of law Dworkinite style. In simple words, the deflationists worry that there are only two basic types of normativity: prudential (self-regarding) and moral (other-regarding) normativity. There is no room for the third type of normativity. Therefore, legal normativity would simply be a subtype of the moral normativity, because it can not be prudential in character (law often imposes on its subjects other-regarding prescriptions). That's why, it's better not to flirt with the normativity concept at all, at least at the level of the rules of recognition and common law identifying and law applying practices of legal officials). The concept of normativity is retained at the level of the primary legal rules, which assures that the theory remains Hartian in its basic content.

The most serious problem with the Deflationist account of the legal normativity lies in its agnosticism with regard to the law identifying practices of the legal officials. They simply refuse to explained it tout court . One cannot replace one explanation with no explanation, one can replace it only with another, hopefully, better explanation.

As a result, you have to replace normativity with something else as a key feature of law. The only plausible thing that remains under the circumstances like that is to return to the early accounts of the legal positivism stressing the role of coercion. The Deflationists make a new attempt  in this direction (Frederick Schauer). The theory is more subtle, far more nuanced, than their early positivists predecessors. These subtleties has been analysed and criticized in the research paper.

The basic problem lies in the fact that the coercion concept is too wide, too vague and incoherent to solve the problem. 


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