Normative Conflict Resolution in Multi-Agent Systems

Wamberto W Vasconcelos, Martin J Kollingbaum, Timothy J Norman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

115 Citations (Scopus)


Norms (permissions, obligations and prohibitions) offer a useful and powerful abstraction with which to capture social constraints in multi-agent systems. Norms should exclude disruptive or antisocial behaviour without prescribing the design of individual agents or restricting their autonomy. An important challenge, however, in the design and management of systems governed by norms is that norms may, at times, conflict with one another; e.g, an action may be simultaneously prohibited and obliged for a particular agent. In such circumstances, agents no longer have the option of complying with these norms; whatever they do or refrain from doing will lead to a social constraint being broken. In this paper, we present mechanisms for the detection and resolution of normative conflicts. These mechanisms, based on first-order unification and constraint solving techniques, are the building blocks of more sophisticated algorithms we present for the management of normative positions, that is, the adoption and removal of permissions, obligations and prohibitions in societies of agents. We capture both direct and indirect conflicts between norms, formalise a practical concept of authority, and model conflicts that may arise as a result of delegation. We are able to formally define classic ways for resolving conflicts such as lex superior and lex posterior.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)124-152
Number of pages29
JournalAutonomous Agents and Multi-Agent Systems
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2009


  • norms
  • detection and resolution of normative conflicts


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