The law of logic refers to the norms implied by the agreement that has to be made or presupposed in order to be able to communicate. They imply rights and duties which are independent of the opinion of governments or parliaments. It can be shown that they should be part of the law, but aren't. Voluntary communication means peaceful relations. A law that is not consistent with the law of logic requires the structural use of force to be maintained. In other words: the law has to be changed fundamentally in order to realize a more peaceful society.

The website presents a summary of the book published in Dutch under the title Het recht van de logica. More precisely, it gives a summary of each of the 9 main chapters of the book, the main conclusions, and a glossary with definitions of the main concepts.

Chapter 7 of the book is based on the paper Relativity, universality and peaceful coexistence. This paper was published in Archives for philosophy of law and social philosophy, vol. 86 (2000) pp. 88-108. Since the book was published, some of the fundamental ideas of the book have been elaborated in a paper Communication and norms. This paper is available as a pdf-file. The title provides a link to the paper as a pdf-file.

Main conclusions.

1. The language-convention and the law of logic.

In the following the language-convention is understood to mean the communication-convention with a language as the means of communication. By definition, something is logical if it is implied by the language-convention. The expression "law of logic" refers to all properties of the law that are implied by the language-convention. It includes everything that can be said about the law on strictly logical grounds.

A language is useful to the extent that it is consistent. If a language is consistent, then it is possible:

  1. to formulate true propositions about contradictions between propositions. For example propositions establishing a relation between two or more of the following concepts: the subjectivity of (value)judgments, progress, equal rights, majority decision-making and liability;
  2. to formulate true if-then-propositions about relations between for example certain norms and values on the one hand and rules of conduct on the other. The theorems about the right to be safeguarded and about the reciprocity-principle are examples of this.

Suitably chosen parts of languages can be languages in themselves. It may therefore be possible to select or construct a consistent sublanguage from an inconsistent language. Note furthermore that a language remains a language if concepts expressing subjective judgments are eliminated. Communication can be limited to empirical information.

2. Implications of the language-convention and experience.

On logical grounds the following propositions about the law can be formulated:

  1. People who do not want to communicate and do not agree about a means of communication need not agree about anything whatsoever. (In particular about the meaning of "agreement").
  2. Rights and duties are man-made. There are no a priori rights or duties. Rights and duties can only arise from voluntary agreements. Rights can be given and duties accepted.
  3. Since all rights and duties are represented by expressions in a language, all rights and duties presuppose agreement about a language. In other words: the law presupposes a language-convention. It follows that a law is binding only if it respects the language-convention.
  4. The language-convention gives rise to (some) rights and duties. For example the obligation to honour agreements. The language-convention requires that the meaning of expressions is given by this convention. "I will be there at 10:15" should mean: "I will be there at 10:15", and the serious intention and effort to fulfill that promise. The language-convention requires honesty, for without honesty communication is meaningless.
  5. People who want to communicate are bound by the logical implications of the agreement about their means of communication. In particular, they are bound by everything that can be derived from the language-convention using the language-convention. That is, by everything that can be derived from the language-convention by reasoning. Communicants are bound, and in principle bound only, by their agreement to communicate. In principle they are bound by nothing else.
  6. The law of logic is binding for everyone who communicates on a voluntary basis.
  7. The law of logic does not depend on opinions about that law.
  8. A language defines a boundary between matters about which communicants should be able to reach agreement on the one hand, and on the other hand matters about which they can retain different opinions even if they respect the language-convention.
  9. Agreement with the language-convention leaves one free to make any (value)judgment that is compatible with the language-convention.
  10. Imposing norms or values which are not implied by the language-convention violates the law of logic. From the law of logic it follows that people are only bound by norms and values which they voluntarily accept, and by the norms and values that can be derived therefrom with the help of other propositions they agree with.
  11. Rights and duties originate in the voluntary acceptance of a language-convention. Without voluntariness there is no convention in the sense of agreement. There is voluntariness only if one is free to choose the people one wants to communicate with, and the subjects one wants to communicate about. When communication is not voluntary no logical conclusions can be drawn from violations of the language-convention.
  12. Violation of the language-convention means failing obligations taken up by acceptance of the language-convention. Since the language-convention is a necessary condition for any rights whatsoever, this invalidates ones claims to rights. Strictly speaking this is a matter of principle, of all or nothing. Because of the great problems this may cause in practice one can opt for a proportional approach. Even though the answers to the questions which rights are lost by which violations, and to what extent, are highly subjective.
  13. In addition to the law of logic people can agree on other rights and duties. People are only bound by the additional laws if they have voluntarily accepted them. This also applies to people who adhere to the language-convention. Laws which have not been agreed upon can only be imposed and maintained with the threat or use of force.
  14. At least two domains of law can be distinguished: that of the language (the law of logic) and the remainder. The distinction is important because discussion about the law in the second domain is possible only if the law of logic is accepted. Profound differences of opinion about the law in the second domain can coexist with full compliance with the language-convention. In practice this distinction is made rarely if ever. The law of logic is not recognized as such. Only the part that coincides with the common law has force of law. In political discussions and debates the language-convention is violated as a matter-of-course.
  15. The validity of rights and duties arising from the language-convention does not require any form of agreement other than the agreement about the language-convention itself. In particular it does not require unanimity or a majority. It is pointless to discuss for example their desirability or acceptability, for discussion presumes the language-convention.

3. Implications of the language-convention for laws in general.

In addition to the above, the agreement to use a given language as a means of communication implies:

  1. that laws should not contain contradictions. Such as permission to cheat;
  2. that laws should be consistent with empirical knowledge. For example about the autonomy of organisms, i.e. their ability to make choices and take decisions regarding their own behavior.

Ad 1.
Contradictory expressions mean violation of the language-convention. Such violation is permissible only if the convention isn't binding. But if it isn't, then the law is defined in an ambiguous way. In common parlance "law" means unambiguous law, or at least as unambiguous as possible. Therefore 1 should hold.
Contradictory rules of law can be "saved" by calling one or several of them "rule", and the others "exception". For the exceptions arguments may be given. Sometimes contradictions can be resolved by means of higher norms and values from which both rules and exceptions can be derived. But if such higher norms and values are not known or don't exist, then the contradiction is not falsified, and can be interpreted as arbitrariness or cheating. Like every right, the right to make exceptions needs foundation.

Ad 2.
This follows from the fact that a language is defined in terms of experience. A law that contradicts experience violates the language-convention and makes this convention useless. And if the contradictions of the law mirror contradictions of the language, then the parts of the law and language affected are meaningless and therefore not binding.

It has been tried to formulate the propositions in such a way that they are true in an objective sense. Since they depend only on the language-convention and not on value- judgments or other subjective assumptions, their acceptance should not be a matter of opinion. It should be possible to explain their binding nature on purely logical grounds. If you disagree with one or more of the propositions, then you might try to find errors of reasoning in the above or in chapter 7 of the book. For example by looking for (implicit) assumptions that are inconsistent with the language-convention. On the other hand you could try to find errors in the assumptions underlying those of your convictions that you find challenged by the propositions. What are these convictions based on?

This is not to say that the propositions should be accepted uncritically. No one has ever formulated a theorem that didn't have to be improved or corrected sooner or later. There is no reason to believe that the given propositions are exceptions to the rule. Most probably they contain minor and major errors. Once they are found they can be corrected in order to produce improved formulations. This work hopes to be a step forward, but it certainly does not pretend to be the last step.

4. Reciprocity.

The validity of the right to be safeguarded and the reciprocity-principle do not depend on general agreement or the existence of a majority of proponents. Those who don't recognize the right of others to be safeguarded deprive themselves of that right too. The reciprocity-principle protects violators as well as their victims. The right of redress of someone whose right to be safeguarded has been violated does not exceed the damage done and the costs that have to be made to get redress. The reciprocity-principle is not a revenge-principle.

The reciprocity-principle is an equal-rights principle. The principle can be denied on the assumption that factual differences between people justify differences in rights and duties. But knowledge or abilities don't imply anything for the validity or weight of value-judgments. Muscles nor bombs imply rights or duties. Neither do knowledge or abilities.

There is no logical solution of disputes about value-judgments. As long as people are not aware of this, discussions held with the purpose of finding such a solution can continue forever without ever reaching a conclusion. The autonomy of organisms like people is an empirical fact. The subjectivity of value-judgments is a logical consequence of the language-convention. For these reasons denial of the autonomy of other people and the subjectivity of value-judgments contradicts the language-convention. In practice it means asking for trouble. For everybody appraises infringements on his personal well-being as negative. So the only logically sound foundation of a society which is as peaceful as possible consists in factual respect of the subjective well-being of others, and therefore of the right to be safeguarded and the reciprocity-principle.

The book shows that it is incorrect to represent these principles as utopian or idealistic, even though their implementation will produce far-reaching changes in society. Those who think that it is impossible or undesirable to implement them should realize that all known alternatives are based on permitting irresponsible behavior and the threat or use of force, and go a long way to explain war, genocide, climate-changes and many other phenomena which are generally considered unwanted or unacceptable. The "utopia" of the right to be safeguarded and the reciprocity-principle may offer mankinds only chance of survival. In other words: there may very well be only two alternatives: this "utopia", and structural violence and ruin. A choice has to be made between the law of logic and the law of the strongest.

Seen from the positive side contributing to implementation of the given principles offers an opportunity to realize progress in a well-founded sense, and thereby earn the respect of future generations. It might give the present generations a goal worth believing in.

Back to the top of the page
To the summary


The exchange of messages of which the meaning is determined by an agreement. The agreement includes the promise to express as well as possible what is considered true or correct. The agreement therefore implies the promise not to lie. Without such promises the messages are undefined, and their exchange is pointless.

The exchange of messages of which the meaning is determined by an agreement, and which express as well as possible what the communicants consider true or correct.

An agreement:
  1. to communicate;
  2. to use a specified means of communication (such as English).

Agreement to communicate, and to communicate by means of a given language.

A set of rules that is supposed to bind everyone.

Consequence of the language-convention. Denial of an implication of the language-convention means violation of that convention. Illogicalities are inconsistent with the language-convention.

Means of communication.
A set of signs, and a set of prescriptions for the translation of meanings into (series of) signs, and (series of) signs into meanings.

Norms and values.
The entities used to order and/or valuate alternatives in decision- making. More specifically norms are conditions that are imposed upon alternatives, while values are the things which are considered important (or undesirable).

Objective (adj).
Something (like norms or propositions) of which the denial means denial of the language-convention.

Nobody has more rights than the rights of others he respects, and no less than necessary to maintain those rights of others he enjoyed himself.

Reciprocity theorem.
If violation of the right to be safeguarded is treated in accordance with the reciprocity-principle, then the consequences of the infringements of the non-actor's right to be safeguarded are minimized with a minimal loss of the actor's well-being.

Right to be safeguarded.
The right not to be affected by any consequence of avoidable activities of other people.

Subjective (adj).
Not objective.

The principle consisting of the following assumptions:
  1. There are no a priori binding (objective) norms and values;
  2. Everyone has the right to valuate independently;
  3. There is no a priori basis for a different treatment of the value-judgments of different people.

A language constructed from another language by eliminating concepts (for example mathematical or musical) and/or grammatical rules (for example subordinate clauses). Many books implicitly define sublanguages by using a restricted vocabulary and an incomplete grammatical repertoire.

Theorem about the right to be safeguarded.
People and cultures can coexist peacefully if and only if they recognize the subjectivity-principle and the right to be safeguarded.

Back to the top of the page
To the summary

Notes on "Het recht van de logica".

This website is based on the book Het recht van de logica. It is written in Dutch. It is hardbound, has 476 pages, and ISBN 90 5166 898 8. It can be ordered from the booksellers.

The Dutch-language version of this website is