Norms, Attitudes, and Compliance
23 Pages Posted: 25 Jan 2015 Last revised: 20 May 2015
Date Written: January 23, 2015
We use this review of Explaining Norms (Oxford University Press, 2013) by Geoffrey Brennan, Lina Eriksson, Robert Goodin, and Nicholas Southwood (BEGS) as an occasion to question the predominant definition of norms among legal scholars and empirical researchers.
Part I discusses two foundational questions about norms: what are they, and what is it to comply with them? We identify BEGS’s key insights into these questions and some problems with their analysis.
Part II sets out the leading definition of norms in the legal literature, which we call “reductive behaviorism.” Reductive behaviorism sees norms primarily as patterns or regularities of behavior. An implication of this definition is that to behave in accordance with a norm is to comply with it.
Part III deploys BEGS’s insights about norm compliance to identify two important phenomena that reductive behaviorism leaves out. First, reductive behaviorism denies that norms could concern anything other than externally manifest behaviors, such as patterns of deliberation. However, many norms do concern deliberation, so reductive behaviorism cannot describe how these norms operate. Second, complying with certain norms requires not only that someone behave and deliberate in accordance with the norm, but also that the norms factor into the agent’s deliberations. In these cases, to use BEGS’s terminology, compliance requires following a norm, rather than merely conforming to it. Yet, reductive behaviorism cannot appreciate any meaningful difference between conforming to and following a norm, let alone explain why some norms must be followed.
The predominant view of norms thus fails on its own terms. Reductive behaviorism provides an incomplete picture of how norms work. While certain of BEGS’s conclusions strike us as incorrect, their insights can help remedy these conceptual deficiencies in legal scholarship and inspire improvements in the empirical study of norms.
Keywords: Norms, Normative Attitudes, Compliance, Conformity, Deliberation, McAdams, Posner, The Americans
JEL Classification: D63
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation