The Objectivity of Morality, Rules and Law: A Conceptual Map

24 Pages Posted: 27 Mar 2013

See all articles by Larry Alexander

Larry Alexander

University of San Diego School of Law

Date Written: April 2013


I am honored to have been invited to present a Meador Lecture on this year’s Meador Lecture Series’ topic of objectivity. Because this is a law school, and because this lecture is appearing in the Alabama Law Review, I shall assume that the relevant form of objectivity for this lecture is that of objectivity in law. There are, of course many other domains in which questions about objectivity arise. The only other domain the objectivity of which I shall discuss, however, is that of morality. And I shall discuss it only briefly and only insofar as it bears on legal objectivity.

Here is how I shall proceed. I will approach legal objectivity by asking what must be true for a proposition expressing a legal norm to be true. What things in the world are the “truthmakers” of legal propositions such as “the maximum speed limit in California is 70 miles per hour”? Once we know what those truthmakers are, we can then ask whether they are objective and in what sense? More specifically, I shall ask about the possible relationship between a norm’s having the status of a legal norm and that norm’s consistency with moral norms. I shall also ask, what are the truthmakers of different types of legal norms — rules and standards? And I shall ask as well, is there a third type of legal norm, the legal principle, and if so, what are its truthmakers?

Keywords: objectivity, metaethics, morality, interpretation, rules, standards, principles, Wittgenstein, jurisprudence, legal theory, interpretation

JEL Classification: K10

Suggested Citation

Alexander, Lawrence, The Objectivity of Morality, Rules and Law: A Conceptual Map (April 2013). Alabama Law Review, 2013; San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 13-112. Available at SSRN:

Lawrence Alexander (Contact Author)

University of San Diego School of Law ( email )

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