Summer school 2013 – Reciprocity & the Normative Foundations of Legal Orders

Invitation / Call for application OZSW Summer School 2013

Dates: 25-29 August 2013
Location: Woodbrooke Hotel, Barchem, The Netherlands

Deadline for application: April 15, 2013

About the topic

Which understanding of normativity governs the democratic injunction that laws ought be general? What sense are we to make of equality among citizens in societies marked by deep-seated differences, cultural and otherwise? Does political equality between citizens presuppose a more fundamental moral equality between human beings, such that decisions about the entry of immigrants or asylum seekers to a polity should be based on decisions that can count on the consent of both citizens and those who seek entry? Whence do legal obligations derive their binding character? Why is the notion of a (social) contract paradigmatic for the conceptions of legitimacy prevalent in modernity? Most generally, what form of intersubjectivity is constitutive for the normativity of legal orders?

The general hypothesis that will be explored in the course of the Summer School of 2013 is that these and related questions all lead back to the general problem of reciprocity and the foundations of normative orders. Indeed, reciprocity is, by most accounts, one of the fundamental principles that structure normative orders. In different ways and with different accents, contemporary philosophers such as Rawls, Nagel, Habermas, Taylor, Gadamer and Ricoeur all posit the principle of reciprocity as foundational with respect to law, no less than with respect to politics and ethics. In fact, it is perhaps not exaggerated to assert that these authors, and their great predecessors going from Hobbes to Hegel, view reciprocity as the common root of the normativity of law, politics, and ethics. It is significant, in this respect, that both communitarian and cosmopolitan approaches to the normativity of normative orders grant pride of place to the notion of reciprocity. No less significantly, reciprocity has also become the object of considerable interest in analytically oriented theories of collective intentionality and action, where it plays a key role in accounting for joint action and, as a consequence, for political and legal obligation (e.g. Gilbert, Bratman, Pettit). Recognition of the foundational character of reciprocity is not limited, however, to philosophers. A wide range of anthropologists and sociologists argue that reciprocity is in fact the structuring principle of social orders in general, and which explains a disparate range of activities including the gift, economic transactions and revenge.

The OZSW Ethics & Practical Philosophy Summer School of 2013 focuses on the relation between reciprocity and the foundations of normative orders as germane to the normativity of law. Despite the ubiquity of reciprocity, there is considerable debate about what precisely reciprocity means, and how it is related to associated notions, such as symmetry and mutuality. A case in point is Iris Marion Young’s defense of asymmetric reciprocity, as opposed to Seyla Benhabib’s symmetric account of reciprocity. Another example is Paul Ricoeur’s and Marc Rogin Anspach’s contrasting views on the relation between mutual recognition and reciprocity. These and related conceptual questions spill over into the normative debate about reciprocity. Most fundamentally, the question is whether and how reciprocity might be the normative foundation of legal obligation given that (i) legal orders presuppose a bounded reciprocity, both as concerns the content of joint action and membership in a legal collective, and (ii) legal reciprocity cannot itself emerge from a reciprocal act between ‘all those involved’; on principle, and not merely in fact, legal reciprocity has a non-reciprocal origin. Finally, there are sectorial issues pertaining to reciprocity, meaning by such domains of law in which reciprocity is a recurrent conceptual and normative problem: private law (e.g. contract and private self-regulation); public law (e.g. equality and the principle of non-discrimination, the distinction between citizen and denizen with regard to political rights, tolerance); environmental law (e.g. intergenerational obligations); criminal law (e.g. punishment).

Target group and set-up

The summer school is tailored to doctoral candidates in the fields of legal philosophy, political philosophy and ethics. While the focus is on reciprocity in legal orders, the conceptual, normative and field-specific issues will be presented in a way that is accessible to doctoral candidates in practical philosophy who have no prior law degree. An important aim of the summer school is, in fact, to foster dialogue between legal philosophers on the one hand and political philosophers and ethicists, on the other. Reciprocity is a promising avenue to this effect.

This set of issues is approached in two of the activities organized in the framework of the Summer School:

  1. General conceptual and normative issues apposite to reciprocity and legal order. Three foreign scholars and two legal philosophers of the Netherlands whose research includes the theme of reciprocity will present papers on the conceptual and normative issues indicated heretofore.
  2. Field-specific issues pertaining to reciprocity. Leading legal theorists of the Netherlands will present papers on reciprocity in the fields of private law, public law, environmental law and criminal law. The presentation of papers is followed up by a discussion with the participants.

Additionally, all doctoral candidates will be invited to present their projects to the group during the summer school. They will receive general feedback from the group as a whole and more detailed feedback from scholars participating in the summer school.


Panel chair person: Thijs Jansen (Tilburg)

* Full-blown papers; all other speakers participate in the panel on field-specific issues.

Preliminary program

The preliminary program for the summer school can be found by clicking HERE.

How to apply

Please send an e-mail to with:

  •  your contact details (email address, telephone number and postal address)
  •  a brief description of your academic background (previous education, etc. with a max. of 300 words)
  • a brief description of your PhD project (max. 500 words)

If your application is accepted, your contact information and the description of your research project will be included in the reader for the Summer School. When the number of applications exceeds the number of places available, we will make a selection on the basis of the relevance of the topic for the student’s dissertation. You will be notified within two weeks after the deadline for application whether your application to the summer school has been accepted.

Deadline for application: April 15th, 2013


As this is a short and intensive course, active participation by the students is required. Participants are expected to study the reader containing the articles that have been selected for the course in advance. Tutorials with the teaching staff are part of the program. All participants will give a presentation on (part of) their PhD project.

Practical information / costs

The Summer School begins on Sunday, August 25 (arrival and registration), and ends on Thursday, August 29. The summer school is sponsored by the “Dutch school for research in philosophy” (OZSW), which will cover part of the costs for participation of all the participants. Participants pay a contribution of 475 euro (based on a number of 4 nights) Private room, all meals included. PhD-students of the former “Netherlands School for Research in Practical Philosophy” (OZSE) or the new “Dutch school for research in philosophy” (OZSW) pay the reduced price of 375 euro. All participants are expected to make their own travel arrangements.

Organizers / more information

The Summer School is organized by Hans Lindahl (Tilburg) and Bart van Klink (VU University Amsterdam). For further information related to the contents of this summer school, please contact either of the two organizers at the following email addresses: or For practical inquiries, please contact