Intentional Compliance with Normative Systems

EUI Working Papers LAW No. 2012/27

31 Pages Posted: 17 Jan 2013 Last revised: 24 Dec 2013

See all articles by Giovanni Sartor

Giovanni Sartor

European University Institute Law Department

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Date Written: November 1, 2012


I will address a challenge to mentalistic theories of norms, such as that developed by Cristiano Castelfranchi and Rosaria Conte, namely, the existence of large normative systems, which successfully direct people’s thoughts and actions without being, in their entirety, mental contents of individual agents. I will argue that the cognitive attitudes and operations involved in compliance with normative systems are usually different from those involved in complying with isolated social norms. While isolated norms must be stored in the memory of the agents endorsing them, this does not happen with regard to large normative systems. In the latter case, the agent adopts a general policy-based intention to comply with the normative system as a whole, an intention that provides an abstract motivation for specific acts of compliance, once the agent has established that these acts are obligatory according the system. I will show how the endorsement of such a policy can be based on different individual attitudes, ranging from self-interest to altruistic, social or moral motivations. Finally, I will analyze how a normative system may both constrain powers and extend them, relying on this abstract motivation of its addressees.

Keywords: normative systems, norms, intentions, compliance, obligations

Suggested Citation

Sartor, Giovanni, Intentional Compliance with Normative Systems (November 1, 2012). EUI Working Papers LAW No. 2012/27. Available at SSRN: or

Giovanni Sartor (Contact Author)

European University Institute Law Department ( email )

Via Bolognese 156 (Villa Salviati)
50-139 Firenze

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