Access to the full content is only available to members of institutions that have purchased access. If you belong to such an institution, please log in or find out more about how to order.



Norms, legal

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-T021-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 13, 2024, from

Article Summary

A legal norm sets a standard of behaviour. As a norm, it thus can remain in existence even though it is broken. Norms can be distinguished from causal laws which need to be reinterpreted if an exception is found. Linguistic signals help us determine what the norm is. Thus ‘ought’, ‘must’, ‘shall’, ‘have to’, ‘right’, ‘wrong’, ‘good’, ‘bad’, and so on, characteristically belong to the statement of norms, whereas words like ‘is’, ‘are’, ‘were’, ‘will be’ ‘possible’, ‘impossible’ tend to show descriptive rules. These linguistic signals reflect a difference, they do not constitute it. There are many counterexamples: thus ‘swimming is forbidden’ and ‘we ought to be at the col now’ express normativity and description respectively.

Whatever is for someone a standard for their conduct is normative for them. One might say that the idea stems from the notion of measurement. That we ‘run the rule’ over someone or ‘get the measure of them’ stems from the idea of measuring, of imposing a standard on them or on oneself.

Where does the legal norm stem from? There are two main views: the practice theory holds that norms are expressions or articulations of people’s behaviour; the interpretive theory holds that norms are not connected to behaviour in the way the practice theory holds but are the means whereby we make sense of such behaviour. But the connection between the two groups is much closer than appears at first sight.

Citing this article:
Bankowski, Zenon. Norms, legal, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-T021-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

Related Searches


Related Articles