Are Legal Rules Content-Independent Reasons?
Problema, Vol. 5, pp. 175-210, 2011
36 Pages Posted: 1 Mar 2012 Last revised: 8 May 2013
I argue that the answer to the above question turns on three distinctions as to the meaning of content-independent reasons and the types of statement in which they feature. The first distinction is between two senses of content-independence, which I refer to as weak and strong content-independence. I argue that, while legal rules can (and often do) give rise to content-independent reasons in the weak sense, whether they can be said to generate content-independent reasons in the strong sense depends on two further distinctions: first, a distinction between evaluative and descriptive statements about reasons (i.e., statements describing reasons as they figure in the internal assumption of a certain normative practice, such as law); second, a distinction between reasons for action and reasons for adopting certain attitudes. Strong content-independence, I argue, is a sound notion only insofar as it figures in descriptive reason-statements (as opposed to evaluative reason-statements) with regard to actions (as opposed to attitudes). Finally, I uncover an underlying explanation that links the different senses in which legal rules provide content-independent reasons, and accounts for the differences between them.
Keywords: content-independent reasons, legal rules, normativity, practical reason, H. L. A. Hart, Joseph Raz
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