SAP sponsored event: Normative Powers in Law and Morality

SAP sponsored event: Normative Powers in Law and Morality

University of Oxford
July 3, 2019 9:00 am — July 4, 2019 5:00 pm
Faculty of Philosophy, University of Oxford (Radcliffe Humanities, Woodstock Road, Oxford OX2 6GG)

Contact Maximillian Kiener for more information.


People can change the moral and legal status of certain acts by communicating their intention to do so, e.g. by consenting or promising. This ability is often referred to as an individual’s normative power and is highly significant in both law and morality. All or most contemporary legal systems recognise a person’s ability to create obligations for themselves, e.g. by entering into contracts (which is often seen as an act of promising), and also recognise a person’s ability to create permissions for others, e.g. by consenting to sex or a medical procedure. But promise and consent are also highly important in morality. Promises are integral to morality as they partly determine our moral obligations to each other. Consent on the other hand is critical as it partly determines whether our acts morally wrong others.

Given the relevance of normative powers in both law and morality, it is specifically an interdisciplinary discourse that could facilitate substantial progress, in particular on the following questions: are the reasons why individuals have or should have normative powers different in law and morality? If so, why? To what extent does the range of things which people can promise and consent to differ between the legal and moral context? How are legal changes in the status of an act different from moral changes in the status of an act? And if there are differences, why do they exist? Do the law and morality take a different stance on the question of what kinds of influence and circumstances (e.g. coercion, deception, mistake, power differentials) vitiate consent or invalidate a promise? Does the law’s binary assumption that consent and promises are either valid or invalid (but nothing in between) reflect an essential feature of normative powers, or is it just a useful fiction for the purposes of the law?

To answer these and related questions, this conference aims to bring together philosophers and legal scholars in an interdisciplinary dialogue. The conference aims to facilitate a deeper understanding of normative powers in general as well as with regards to the specific domains of morality and law.