Are Legal Concepts Embedded in Legal Norms?

  • Tomasz Gizbert-Studnicki
  • Mateusz KlinowskiEmail author


In this paper, we discuss the problem of the relationship between legal concepts and legal norms. We argue that one of the widespread theories of legal concepts, which we call ‘the embedding theory’, is false. The theory is based on the assumption that legal norms are central for any legal system and that each legal norm establishes an inferential link between a certain class of facts and a certain class of legal consequences. Alf Ross’s embedding theory was presented in his famous paper “Tu–Tu”. According to Ross, the sole function of legal concepts is to simplify normative information. Hence, the use of legal concepts may be a matter of convenience, rather than necessity. We criticize this approach mainly by pointing to the existence of so-called second order substantive concepts, which are not reducible to any determined set of conditional sentences (inferential links). In short, second order substantive concepts play the role of general standards, and general standards are used to provide flexibility for a particular legal system. In addition, general standards are ‘value loaded’, since they serve as a frame of reference for judges applying law to particular cases. To understand such general standards as a predefined set of conditionals means to overlook their ‘open’ content, and thus their function. In our opinion, the acceptance of the embedding theory means to misinterpret the function of general standards. We also argue that Giovani Sartor’s idea of defective legal concepts doesn’t help to clarify or defend the embedding theory.


Legal concepts Embedding theory Inferential link Intermediate legal concepts Formal legal concepts Substantive legal concepts Doctrinal commitment Defective concepts Constitutional standards Supranational standards 


  1. 1.
    Ashley, Kevin D, and Stefanie Brueninghaus. 2003. A Predictive role for intermediate legal concepts. In the Proceedings 16th annual conference on legal knowledge and information systems, Jurix-03, 153–162, Utrecht.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Brouwer, Bob, and Jaap Hage. 2007. Basic concepts of European private law. European Review of Private Law 15(1): 3–26.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Frandberg, Ake. 2009. An essay on legal concept formation. In Concepts in law, ed. Jaap C. Hage, and Dietmar von der Pfordten, 1–16. Netherlands: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 4.
    Gizbert-Studnicki, Tomasz. 1993. Das Problem des Übersetzens und das juristiche Weltbild. In Übersetzen verstehen, Brücken bauen, ed. A.P. Frank, K. Maass, F. Paul, H. Turk, and Erich Schid, 305–313. Berlin: Verlag.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Hohfeld, Wesley Newcomb. 1920. Fundamental legal conceptions as applied in judicial reasoning. Yale University Press, New Haven.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Ross, Alf. 1957. Tu Tu. Scandinavian Studies in Law 139–153.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    Sartor, Giovanni. 2009. Understanding and applying legal concepts: An inquiry on inferential meaning. In Concepts in law, ed. Jaap C. Hage, and Dietmar von der Pfordten, 35–54. Netherlands: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. 8.
    Von der Pfordten, Dietmar. 2009. About concepts in law. In Concepts in law, ed. Jaap C. Hage, and Dietmar von der Pfordten, 17–33. Netherlands: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Law and AdministrationJagiellonian UniversityKrakówPoland

Personalised recommendations