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Conference Report – Pointed Reasoning on Normativity: Young Researchers in Legal Philosophy Meet in Würzburg

By Matthias Goldmann
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“For, he reasons pointedly, that which must not cannot be:” the last two lines of a famous poem by Christian Morgenstern bring the crux of normativity to the point:  what is the relationship between facts and norms? The research of the past decades has increased rather than reduced the complexity of this fundamental question for legal theory. First of all, the relationship between facts and norms is still less than clear. Hans Kelsen had argued that facts and norms were to be clearly separated, but once the Grundnorm (basic norm) had turned out to be fictitious, the search for an appropriate description of the relationship between facts and norms began anew. Positivists after Kelsen based normativity on different facts, such as social acceptance or social discourse. Secondly, research on new modes of governance, in particular in the fields of European and international law, has revealed that behaviour can be influenced by “soft” norms and non-normative forms of governance just as much as by “hard” law. These results prompted some to consider legal normativity a matter of degree instead of an on-off issue.

With these and many more questions open, the irony of Morgenstern’s poem appears as a promising strategy for inducing pointed reasoning on normativity: irony makes the problem comprehensible and un-demonizes such an immense issue like normativity that affects the self-understanding of the entire discipline. The poem was therefore a perfect lead-in for the conference on normativity convened by the forum of young German-speaking researchers in legal philosophy (Junges Forum Rechtsphilosophie, JFR) in Würzburg from 27 to 28 September 2006. The JFR is an informal group founded at the beginning of the 1990s as a platform for exchange and discussion.  It is closely associated with the German section of the “Internationale Vereinigung für Rechts- und Sozialphilosophie,” and the papers of its annual conference are regularly published in a supplement to the Archiv...