20th of June 2023 – Piotr Bystranowski – Normative ignorance and the folk concept of law
We have the pleasure to invite you to another research seminar in the ‘BIOUNCERTAINTY’ research project. Next week Piotr Bystranowski give a talk: "Normative ignorance and the folk concept of law”. The seminar will take place exceptionally on Tuesday 20th of June at 5:30 p.m. in the room 25 on Grodzka Street and via MS Teams.
“Sorry, I didn’t know I wasn’t allowed to do that.” This is a frequently heard and often valid, or even convincing, excuse. In the context of many social rules, such as moral norms, local customs, or rules of etiquette, an ignorant transgressor has good chances of being forgiven and merely informed about the broken rule and reminded to abide by it in the future.
Legal rules are different, though. If there is any legal principle about which lay people and professional lawyers profess a comparable level of confidence, it is the ancient adage that everybody is presumed to know the law and that ignorance of law offers no excuse. While legal and moral philosophers continue to be puzzled by how an individual can be legally sanctioned for failing to follow a rule they did not even know existed, the harsh principle generally remains in place across legal systems. Unlike philosophers, regular people appear mostly comfortable with this distinctively legal way of approaching normative ignorance.
Assuming such an asymmetry between legal and non-legal ignorance, this project asks whether something interesting about the folk concept of legality can be uncovered by studying how people react to actors ignorantly violating different kinds of rules. Are there some factors that make people both believe a given rule is legal and not excuse a person who violated that rule out of ignorance?
I will present the results of an exploratory correlational study in which I confront participants with a battery of social rules, ranging from statutory and case law provisions through customs of informal social groups and household rules. While one group of participants is asked about the degree to which a given rules is law-like, the other group decides on the responsibility of an actor who violated such rules out of ignorance. The results paint a complex yet fascinating picture, in which both the ascription of legality and non-excusable ignorance are independently determined by multiple situational factors. Rich textual data produced by participants also point clearly to tensions embedded in the way people delineate the legal domain.