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The 5 differences between law and norm

The 5 differences between law and norm

March 1, 2021

The human being is a gregarious and social being that coexists with other members of his same species. But the coexistence is something complex , especially when it occurs among a large number of people who have their own needs, motivations and objectives. It is necessary, in order to ensure that the rights of its members are respected and to be able to organize, to establish some regulations to the activity and behavior of each of the individuals that make up the group. These regulations can have different forms.

In this article we are going to talk about precisely the differences between law and norm , two of the main types of regulations that significantly influence our behavior.


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The law and the norm

Before going on to talk about the differences between the two concepts, let's first establish a brief definition of each of them to understand the similarities and visualize why they can not be considered the same.

We understand by rule that regulation or established principle and socially imposed that indicates the expected behavior or necessary in certain situations. It is a social convention that does not necessarily have to be true or be obeyed in all cases, although it depends on the type of norm and its legal consideration. Its main function is to indicate and regulate the activity of the human being so that it adapts to the socially accepted.


There are a great variety of types of norms with different consideration, such as moral or legal ones. Failure to comply may result in some type of punishment , depending on the situation.

As far as the concept of law is concerned, this type of regulation supposes the construction of a rule or norm considered legal and that has been established by the authority in order to put certain limits on the conduct allowed in society at the same time as the right to act within its margins. Your breach will always be prosecuted and punished. It applies to the whole of citizenship.

Given the definition of each of the concepts we can see that there is some link between them. In fact, the law is considered a type of legal norm, mandatory. But despite this, both concepts present a series of particularities that make it impossible, unless it is specified that we are talking about a legal norm, that the law and norm are equal.


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Main differences

Although in the brief previous definitions it is already possible to observe a large part of the differences between law and norm, we will now see them more clearly. It is important to keep in mind that in this section When we speak of norm we will refer to non-legal norms .

1. Obligatory

One of the main differences between law and norm is found in the level of obligatory nature with which the different subjects that are part of the population have to follow them.

In the case of the norm, the fact that it is obligatory or not will depend on its type and on the evaluation of it by who will follow it. The standard itself only marks the expected behavior, but its breaking does not imply incurring a crime (although it can have consequences) unless we are talking about a legal standard.

In the case of the law and other types of legal norms, compliance is mandatory, resulting in a breach of a fault or crime and generating the application of a penalty.

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2. Provenance

Who establishes the regulation in question is, in most cases, a second difference between norm and law.

In a general way we can consider that the norm is socially constructed and emanates from the majority opinion of a group or community or of an individual with power or influence in a certain context. But nevertheless, these rules do not have to have legal repercussions and they may even contravene what is established by law, being in some cases punishable.

For example, a person can decide to put the rule that you can smoke in your bar, although the law does not allow it. Despite this, many of these rules can be voted on and later incorporated as laws.

As for the law, it is drawn up and established by the legislature and must be previously approved by Congress before it can be applied.

3. Target

The target or objective of the law and norm may also differ. The law applies or should be applied in all cases without exception, regulating the activity of all members of the same company without making distinctions. By contrast, the norm can be directed to a specific group of people or to a very specific situation, being limited and partial.

People outside this group will not be affected by it even if they are part of the same community (for example, that a company does not allow its employees to wear tattoos or that they have to hide them does not imply that another company may be allowed to do so).

4. Flexibility and change

The level of change and flexibility that can be had when modifying regulations or the degree to which they can be interpreted can also vary greatly.

The rules can be reinterpreted and reworked with some ease, although it would be necessary to modify or introduce changes in the perception of those who establish it (what if given at the level of a small group can be easy but if it is at a social level it can entail a great difficulty and a lot of time). As far as the laws are concerned, their interpretation is not so free and in case of wanting to modify them, it requires a procedure that can be complex, as well as depending on the activity of the Administration.

5. Consequences for non-compliance

Failure to comply with both regulations and laws can lead to a series of consequences. In the case of laws there will always be a sanction of some kind, being said penalties and sanctions are already determined in advance . In the case of standards it is possible that there is no pre-established punishment for non-compliance or even supposes none, although such non-compliance can be punished through social rejection or have been established in advance for those who do so.

Also in relation to science

Beyond the legal sense, we can also find that the differences between law and norm is also found at a scientific level : the norm establishes the behavior or habitual way of happening of some phenomenon without it being necessarily obligatory for it to be fulfilled, while the law is defined as that theory that is fulfilled in all cases or at least of those that have proof Until now.


Lecture 4 The relations between Law and Norms (March 2021).


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