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Engel, Christoph
Year of Publication: 
Series/Report no.: 
Preprints of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods No. 2004/5
Hardly any of the law's subjects know the text of the provisions that govern their conduct. Even less would they be able to handle this text properly, were they to get access to it. Nonetheless the law firmly believes that it is not feckless. This paper solves the puzzle by drawing on four bodies of knowledge: neurobiology, developmental psychology, the psychology of learning, and work form social scientists on learning.The paper makes the following claim: typically the law reaches its addressees indirectly. The law is not followed, it is learned. There are two distinct learning objects. Throughout childhood and adolescence individuals acquire normative proficiency, i.e. the ability to properly handle normative expectations originating in the law. This procedural knowledge is gradually filled with the declarative knowledge of individual normative expectations. Typically, compared to their professional legal origin, they reach adolescents in much more contextualised form. They take the form of schema-like social mirror rules, or of exemplars.Learning also is the key to understanding how individuals cope with changing normative expectations. There are two situations for this: upon legal reform the law changes. Or the individual moves to a different context, and has to learn the legal expectations prevalent there. From a governance perspective, such secondary learning of the law is more risk-prone. Individuals may overlook the change. The new normative expectations may force them to engage in unlearning. The critical phase in brain development may be past, making fundamental changes hard to bring about.
governance by law
command and control regulation
legal reform
regime transition
Document Type: 
Working Paper

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