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Descriptions of Behavior and Behavioral Concepts in Private Law

41 Pages Posted: 27 Nov 2007 Last revised: 7 Jun 2010

Maksymilian T. Del Mar

University of London - Queen Mary - Department of Law

Date Written: December 1, 2006


Every description contains within it a qualifier that allows us to avoid the problem of descriptive regress, and thus allows us to use the description for various purposes. Descriptive regress occurs because no one description can be understood without referring to further descriptions, which themselves require unpacking by reference to further descriptions ad infinitum. There are no fundamental descriptions no descriptions that attain and keep some privileged ontological status. The qualifier works by invoking the normal circumstances in which the description obtains. It is impossible to foresee and describe in advance all the circumstances that would not be normal and that would reveal to us when the description could not obtain. It is our common sense the sense we develop as members of communities, and a sense sometimes narrowed and specialized in certain forms of life of what set of normal circumstances are implied into the description that allows us to use descriptions for various purposes (e.g. for describing circumstances in which some normative consequence should follow if the description obtains).

This theory of descriptions is particularly relevant to the analysis of the role of descriptions of behavior and behavioral concepts in law. Law, in order to enable the regulation and evaluation of human behavior, cannot do without behavioral foundations criteria for evaluation of behavior are always based on certain descriptions of behavior and behavioral concepts. The theory of descriptions developed explains how descriptions of behavior function, namely, their utility relies on the legal community's common sense of the qualifiers attaching to descriptions of behavior. But that theory also has a reformative agenda: we should not think that any one description or any one behavioral concept such as that of intentionality can do all the work for us, in every area of the law, and in respect of every single social phenomenon. We need, in other words, to rethink the criteria for the evaluation of behavior on the basis of this theory of descriptions: i.e. on both the power and the limitations of descriptions of behavior.

Keywords: Private law, descriptions, behaviour, behavioural concept, community common sense

JEL Classification: K13

Suggested Citation

Del Mar, Maksymilian T., Descriptions of Behavior and Behavioral Concepts in Private Law (December 1, 2006). Available at SSRN: or

Maksymilian T. Del Mar (Contact Author)

University of London - Queen Mary - Department of Law ( email )

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London, E1 4NS
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