Are There Still Indispensable Norms in Our Society?

Niklas Luhmann


In his Heidelberg University lecture of 1992, the author uses an ail-too prescient torture scenario to exam the function and putative indispensability of norms in modern society. In the exceptional case, recourse to the »normativity of norms« or to »values« proves to be untenable because all norms and values reveal themselves to be undecidable. Viewed from within the legal systems, the validity of norms remain unquestioned, but viewed from »society« (by, say, the sociologist), norms are seen as social facts and thus open to discussion. The author works his way through many permutations of the torture question (»Would you do it?«) not to give us a normative answer to the problem, but to exemplify the seeming impossibility of reasonably expecting that any given legal norm is normatively indispensable.

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Soziale Systeme is a journal at the interface of systems theory and sociological theory with a broad interest in developments in sociological theory. It promotes a wide intellectual perspective characterized on the one hand by the inclusion of interdisciplinary aspects (cybernetics, biological systems theory, the theory of evolution) and, on the other hand, by maintaining sociology’s unique conceptual identity as an academic discipline.