Sources and Validity

  • Mathieu CarpentierEmail author
Part of the Law and Philosophy Library book series (LAPS, volume 122)


This article proposes a “Simple Model” of the role that sources (mainly social sources) play in modern legal systems. Sources are described as legality-endowing facts. They give norms their legal quality. A norm is a legal norm (and not a moral or social one) if and only if it is traceable to a source. To understand how this works, I introduce the notion of source statements, which allows the Simple Model to eschew the usual questions about law’s ontology: source statements are statements of fact that give an absolute reason to hold some legal statements (such as “if condition C obtains, then one ought to φ”). In such an outlook, sources, being facts, are not persons or authorities; they are (in most, but not all cases) facts about what authorities do.

This Simple Model allows us to disambiguate the notion of legal validity and to solve some classical jurisprudential puzzles. There are, basically, two concepts of validity: validity as membership—does a norm N belong to a given legal system?—and validity as conformity—does a norm N or, for that matter, does whatever X conform to higher-ranking norms of the legal system? If we follow the Simple Model, whether a norm belongs to a given legal system is prima facie independent from its lawfulness, that is, its conformity to, or consistency with, higher-ranking norms of the system. This is so because sources, being legality-endowing facts, are criteria of validity in the membership sense. The rule of recognition picks out the facts that are sources of law. It is not a set of constitutional requirements; there is an essential distinction to be made between the rule of recognition and the Constitution. The former is a set of membership criteria; the latter is a set of normative requirements that laws ought to be consistent with. We can therefore understand why “unlawful laws,” such as unconstitutional statutes, may thus be valid norms and belong to the legal system until they are repealed.

The article concludes with some considerations on the relationship between validity (membership), bindingness, and publicity and why contracts and wills are never sources of law stricto sensu.


Sources Legal statements Authorities Membership Conformity Rule of recognition Bindingness Unconstitutional statutes Publicity Legitimacy 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Toulouse-Capitole University, School of LawToulouseFrance

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