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Project Description

Permissions, Information and Institutional Dynamics, Obligations, and Rights -- PIOTR

Exercising one’s rights, or acting on one’s permission can generate obligations for others. Contract law and international law provide examples. Debtors are obligated to comply when their creditors exercise their right to request payment. Free­trade agreements place their signatories under the obligation not to pass protectionist regulations. A similar phenomenon holds for permissions stemming from morality or rationality. Others ought not infringe my individual right to dignity. In negotiation, one party making a permissible offer might put the other under the (rational) obligation to accept it.

When exactly, then, do permissions and rights generate obligations? Is there a general structure common to these examples? How are such obligations distributed between the parties involved, be they individual or institutional actors? Are the generated obligations strict or could they be overridden, even when they stem from inalienable rights?

These are fundamental questions regarding the dynamic and social or multi­agent aspects of obligations, permissions and rights. Deontic logic, viz. the logical study of obligations and permissions, has long been concerned with the relation between permissions and obligations. Usually, however, the relation is understood the other way around. Obligations imply permissions, or permissions constrain the promulgation of further obligations. However, the dynamic generation of obligations by rights and permissions has received comparatively little attention. The project will fill this gap by focusing on three essential aspects of obligations generated from permissions and rights. First, we will study how explicit permissions generate a dynamics of obligations, and compare it to case where permissions are weak, i.e. the mere absence of prohibitions. Second, we will consider how permissions and rights issued by high­level legal authority generate obligations on its constituents, especially in complex organizations. Finally, we will study the defeasible character of obligations stemming from permissions. Obligations generated from rights and permissions are central to German and Polish law, and these will provide the main sources of “data” for the analysis in this project. 

Three sub-projects:

Project 1: Multi-agent dynamics of obligations from strong permissions.
Leaders: Clayton Peterson, Robert Trypuz
Research Team: Olivier Roy, Marek Lechniak, Martin Rechenauer

This project will study how strong permissions and rights generate obligations in social situations. Its goal is to understand when and how such obligations arise from the issue of explicit permissions or the exercise of rights. We will do so by combining data from concrete legal cases and modern mathematical tools. There are abundant examples of the target phenomenon in this project. Debtors are obligated - this obligation might be defeasible, c.f. Project 3 - to comply when their creditors exercise their right to request payment. Free-trade agreements put their signatories under the obligation not to pass protectionist regulations.

The project will focus on the multi-agent, dynamic and informational components of these examples. Individual rights often generate obligations on others. One of the goals of this project is to provide a mathematically precise, but legally informed understanding of who is affected by the issue of strong permissions and the exercise of rights, and how the obligations generated are distributed within the group. The second salient feature of the examples above is that it is the issue of a strong permission or the exercise of a right that generates obligations on others. These are dynamic, active interventions in the legal landscape. The project aims at understanding and modelling this dynamics, especially in contrast to weak permissions which, legal evidence suggests, are generally not taken to provide sufficient ground for obligations. Finally, information seems to be key to understanding how this multi-agent dynamic proceeds. For strong permission or rights to generate obligations they must be sufficiently or reasonably out in the open. It is arguably constitutive of the creditor’s exercise of her right to request payment that she informs the debtor of that request. But should that information be fully out in the open between the two? I.e., is common knowledge necessary for obligations to be generated by strong permissions? If so, how can this be achieved? If not, how much information should be shared? By whom?

Project 2: Obligations and permissions in hierarchical organizations.  
Leaders: Albert J. J. Anglberger, Piotr Kulicki
Research Team: Martin Rechenauer, Marek Piechowiak, Michael Musielewicz

This project will study how permissions and rights generate obligations in institutional settings. The goal is to understand what kind of actions become obligated for local institutions and individual citizens once permissions and rights are issued by national or trans-national authorities. The focus will be on negative actions, e.g. omissions, and on complex and temporally extended actions, e.g. not interfering with the citizen’s choices in certain domains. We shall analyse these actions using algebraic methods and dynamic logic.

Deontic logicians have extensively studied various senses in which a norm could be "more important" and "prior" to another in the context of a hierarchical institution. This could mean that a higher level obligation overrides the lower level one (see Project 3). This is a case of two conflicting obligations. If we have a higher-level permission for something that has been forbidden at a lower level, this permission might alter (e.g. derogate) what has been forbidden at the lower level. This is a case where issuing a permission changes an existing obligation. The project study how new obligations are created by issuing permissions and rights in this way, especially the kind of action types that are to become obligatory once the higher authority issues a permission or a right.


Project 3: Defeasibility of obligations generated by permissions.
Leaders: Janusz Czelakowski, Norbert Gratzl
Research Team: Huimin Dong, Martin Rechenauer, Olivier Roy

This project will investigate how defeasible obligations can be generated by rights and permissions, even when the latter are inalienable. The goal is to understand and model the sources and mechanism of defeasibility. We will do so by studying a number of concrete court rulings in Germany and Poland, and by supplementing current theories of defeasible obligations with a models of permissions and actions.


The project will focus on three families of cases of defeasibility. The first group represents obligations that inherit their defeasible character from the permissions themselves. The main challenge here will be to understand the nature of defeasible permissions. We will then move to cases where, even though the underlying rights and permissions are unalienable, the obligations they generate are nonetheless defeasible. We will focus first on defeasibility arising from the existence of other existing, conflicting obligations. Here the challenge will be to understand how conflict, and ultimately the rejection of the prima facie obligation, are to be managed, possibly by prioritising the resulting obligations. Finally, we will look at defeasibility that arises from conflicting rights or permissions.






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