Notes . Discussion . Book reviews Hans Kelsen on Norm and language

Ratio Juris 19 (1):101-126 (2006)
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This essay examines an ambiguity in Hans Kelsen’s theory of a norm. On the one hand, Kelsen claims to adhere to what he considers the ‘is/ought’ dichotomy. Kelsen claims that he is describing what really is. On the other hand, Kelsen seems to be understanding the is/ought dichotomy in a very different manner than that by which his contemporaries or, indeed, today’s readers understand the distinction. The clue to this ambiguity is Kelsen’s understanding of a norm. Although legal existence is said to rest with norms, this existence is very different than an existence constituted from social behaviour. Instead, in Kelsen’s view, a norm is a signifying relation between a sign and a cognitive object. Kelsen’s theory of language, however, is very different from a theory of speech acts. When addressing why a norm is binding, we find that Kelsen’s full theory of language excludes important phenomena in order to retain its purity.
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