The Social Construction of Legal Norms

In Miguel Garcia-Godinez, Rachael Mellin & Raimo Tuomela (eds.), Social Ontology, Normativity and Law. De Gruyter. pp. 179-208 (2020)
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Legal norms are an invention. This paper advances a proposal about what kind of invention they are. The proposal is that legal norms derive from rules which specify role functions in a legal system. Legal rules attach to agents in virtue of their status within the system in which the rules operate. The point of legal rules or a legal system is to solve to large scale coordination problems, specifically the problem of organizing social and economic life among a group of people and their successors, though not every legal rule pertains to a coordination problem. The framework for thinking about legal norms that I describe is a framework for thinking about institutions and policies more generally. The idea is to show that legal norms are a species of institutional norm. There are two central ideas. The first is the idea of a role in an institution. The second is the idea of proxy agency. Proxy agency involves one agent or group acting under the authorization of another agent or group (perhaps subsuming it) in a way that makes the actions of the proxy count as actions (under a description) of the individual or group for which it is a proxy. We get the characteristic structure of a legal system by conceiving of an institutional group, itself conceived of as a set of interlocking roles realized in individuals, as having one or more roles for proxy agents who are authorized by the group to make policy for the group. The set of rules governing the basic constitution of the group and spelling out the powers of the policy proxies determine fundamental norms for the group with specific role responsibilities attaching to particular positions in institutional arrangements. The policies determine further norms whose force derives from the fundamental norms. We must then say some further things to distinguish institutions and policies which we wish to designate as legal.
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