Are There Cross-Cultural Legal Principles? Modal Reasoning Uncovers Procedural Constraints on Law
Cognitive Science (Forthcoming)
26 Pages Posted: 22 Jun 2021 Last revised: 1 Jul 2021
Date Written: June 10, 2021
Despite pervasive variation in the content of laws, legal theorists and anthropologists have often argued that laws share certain abstract features and even speculated that law may be a human universal. In the present report, we contribute cross-cultural data to this debate: Are there cross-cultural principles of law? Participants in eleven different countries (N = 3054) were asked whether there could be laws that violate certain procedural principles (e.g., laws applied retrospectively or unintelligible laws), and also whether there are any such laws—in a between-subjects design. Confirming our pre-registered prediction, people reported that such laws cannot exist, but also (paradoxically) that there are such laws. These results document cross-culturally and –linguistically robust beliefs about the nature of law which defy people’s conception of how legal systems function in practice.
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