Analysis Of The Structure And Components Of Joseph Raz’s Idea Of Normative Systems

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Project and Seminar Material for Physiology


This work demonstrates that Raz’s infusion of reason as the basis for enforcing legal demands creates a viable alternative to the previous understanding that coercion is an essential element of law as normative system. Joseph Raz describes normative system as a system for guiding behaviour and for settling disputes which claims supreme authority to interfere with any kind of activity. It also either supports or restricts the creation and practice of other norms in the society.

Raz builds his idea of a normative system around resolving the issue of balancing autonomy and authority which is a recurrent issue in legal positivism. Legal positivism largely claims that law is a posited fact, that is, its validity is sought in the source of power, because law itself proceeds from the will of human beings. However, while rules constitute normative systems in Hart’s views, Raz insists on a combination of rule and reason. Adopting the expository, critical and textual analysis, the purpose of this research is to do an analysis of the components and structure of normative systems in the philosophy of Joseph Raz with a view to showing its relevance in dealing with the issue of insurgency and militancy as it besieges the world today and Nigeria in particular. Since it is obligation that predominantly elicits obedience for the law as a normative system but for Raz, there is no obligation to obey the law; one wonders what will ground the force of the law in this context?

Following this, the central question for this research is: what then becomes the basis for the binding force of the law as a normative system since morality is not?

This work also attempts to: (i) examine whether a conventional practice can give rise to reasons for actions, which invariably gives reason-based arguments for explaining authority, (ii) expound Raz’s case for ‘protected reasons’ that can also function as first-order reason for actions and (iii) find out whether there is a platform to establish a relationship between reason and obligation within the normative system presented by Raz, (iv) attempt a presentation of the relevance of Raz’s concept of toleration for contemporary life.

Chapter One


1.1 Background of the Study

Norms and normative systems vary in their structure and components. This is simply because of the variations in postulations about how norms are structured, what components make up these structures and entire normative systems, as well as the extent to which norms and/or laws can be considered to be coercive. The most common conceptions of normative systems hold that they are coercive. The consequence, therefore, is that reason and reasons for actions (which are supposed to be considered to be primary components of any humane normative system) are rather not considered by most normative system theorists to the necessary determinants of the sense of obligation by the citizens of any society.

Joseph Raz builds his ideal of a normative system around resolving the issue of balancing autonomy and authority. His case for this is directed chiefly against the anarchists1. Raz repudiates the philosophical anarchists by arguing that authority can be consistent with autonomy. In his introduction to his edited volume on authority, Raz wonders: “Can I not have absolute right to decide my own action while conceding an equal right to all? That is anarchy. But it may be that only anarchy avoids the problem of authority2.”

He summarizes the problem as follows: “The duty to obey conveys an abdication of autonomy, that is, of the right and duty to be responsible for one’s action and to conduct oneself in the best light of reason. If there is an authority which is legitimate, then its subjects are duty bound to obey it whether they agree3 or not. Such a duty is inconsistent with autonomy, with the right and the duty to act responsibly, in the light of reason. This is the
challenge of philosophical anarchism.” 4 The task, then, for Raz is to demonstrate that authority can be consistent with acting “in the bes t light of reason.” Following this, Raz goes ahead to give his criteria for the legitimacy of authority.

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