Reason-giving and the law

In Leslie Green & Brian Leiter (eds.), Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Law. Oxford University Press (2011)
A spectre is haunting legal positivists – and perhaps jurisprudes more generally – the spectre of the normativity of law. Whatever else law is, it is sometimes said, it is normative, and so whatever else a philosophical account of law accounts for, it should account for the normativity of law[1]. But law is at least partially a social matter, its content at least partially determined by social practices. And how can something social and descriptive in this down-to-earth kind of way be normative?[2] This is presumably a problem for any theory of law, but it is especially acute for legal positivism, according to which (roughly speaking) all there is to facts about legality are such descriptive social facts. If this is so, the thought goes, the task of accommodating the law’s normativity immediately becomes both more daunting, and more urgent[3]. Unfortunately, though, it is entirely unclear what the problem of the normativity of law is supposed to be. Indeed, I suspect that there is no one problem here, as different people seem to have in mind different problems when they use this unhelpful phrase[4]. At least one family of issues people seem to have in mind when they talk about the normativity of law is a host of issues pertaining to the reason-giving force of the law. The law, it is sometimes said, gives reasons for action, and a theory of law should accommodate this obvious fact. But even when we focus just on questions regarding the reason-giving force of the law (and from now on I will restrict myself to just those, leaving other things people may have in mind when they talk about the normativity of law for another occasion), it is still not clear what the problem is. Indeed, my main purpose in this paper is to make some progress in understanding the relevant question here. And my conclusion is going to be somewhat skeptical: Once we are clear on what reason-giving in general consists in, and on what reason-giving powers the law actually has, there is not much by way of a problem here that needs to be solved, not a deep and interesting phenomenon here that theories of law need to accommodate, and that therefore places adequacy constraints on plausible theories of the nature of law..
Keywords Normativity of Law  Legal Positivism
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George Letsas (2014). The DNA of Conventions. Law and Philosophy 33 (5):535-571.

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