Wrongs and Sanctions in the Pure Theory of Law

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This short paper addresses a well-known difficulty in the Pure Theory of Law: the definition of a legal wrong. Kelsen was unable to offer a suitable one, critics say. I agree. But the critics misdiagnosed the problem, and prescribed for it a fruitless solution. The reason for Kelsen’s failure, the critics say, was that he thought the law consists only of sanction-stipulating norms addressed to officials, and does not comprise duty-imposing norms addressed to citizens. But the critics are wrong, exegetically as well as substantively. Kelsen did not—and indeed could not—deny that there are such duty-imposing norms; and it is not the case, in any event, that the admission that there are such norms would enable us to explain the notion of a legal wrong. Kelsen failed to provide an adequate characterization of the notion of a legal wrong, yes, but for a different reason.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)247-257
Number of pages11
JournalRatio Juris
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2022


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