I have removed the search box because it was not working but the search box in the title bar seems to.

Sunday, 24 July 2011


Laws come in a variety of flavours.

First there are laws like the Laws of Rugby: eg If you pass the ball forward, you will be penalised. These laws are pretty well exactly analogous to Statute Law: eg If you fail to pay your taxes you will be penalised. But there is a difference. A forward pass does not make you a "bad person"; but the case for laws against theft is based upon the idea that thieves are "bad people". In the case of the Laws of Rugby the stipulation is modest – it has nothing to say about forward passes in American Football; those guys have their own rules and good luck to them. Statute Law is much more ambitious in its claim and much less modest.

So, then we have, so far, two types of law: Sports' rules, which can be and are amended from time to time by fiat of the governing body and Statute Law which claims to be based on something higher. When Statute Law is amended, it is (almost) always with a view to conforming to "Justice" – except of course when it is being done to obviate the catastrophes caused by previous legislation. But homage is always being paid to the "something higher" – something we can call Moral Law.

We now have three types of law. Moral Law may or not be the basis of Statute Law, as when both prohibit one man from having two wives; or when Moral Law forbids one from coveting the possessions of others and Statute Law is silent.

Moral Law is much much more interesting than the previous two. A host of questions present themselves: does it really exist and, if so, where does it come from? And, very importantly, what does it mandate? Is having two wives really "bad"?

Because it is so interesting and of such obvious importance, acres of space have been devoted to it by the greatest minds in History: Moses, Aquinas and C S Lewis, for example. I sometimes wonder why we ever discuss anything else. In fact, pretty well all political discourse boils down to questions such as: "How should we organise society?" and "How should we behave?" I am not even going to attempt to justify my belief that it does exist, except to say that we all believe that it does. Only psychopaths would deny it.

A fourth type of law is "Scientific Laws". These are statements which describe the world as it is. Our current formulations of these laws may be inexact or incomplete; but when we state that there is a gravitational attraction between any two bodies and that it is proportional to the mass of those bodies and that inverse squares are involved, we are only describing – not prescribing, as is the case with the first three types of law.

You have to ask yourself whether we can legitimately use the same word for all four types – the fact is that we do.

When we think about Scientific Laws, we may (I do) conclude that there are (at least) two kinds of law: those which can be drawn by inference from observation (eg the Law of Gravity) and those which turn out to be axiomatically true (eg Pythagorus' Theorem or the law that human beings act with the intention of substituting a less satisfactory state of affairs with a more satisfactory state of affairs).

Fascinatingly, it turns out that the Law of Gravitation (though true) can be more accurately stated in terms of Relativity, whereas the Law of Human Action is as immune from refutation as Pythagorus' Theorem.

Gosh! We've got two types of Scientific Law. Who woulda thought that?


Is there a hierarchy of laws? In other words, should one type of law take precedence over any other? I think we would agree that Statute Law should be lower down the hierarchy than Moral Law, even though we might disagree on what Moral Law prescribes. Moral Law, of course, has nothing whatever to say about forward passing.

However, there has been dispute between those who claim to describe Moral Law, and those who describe what they say they is Scientific Law. It is never between the "Moral Lawyers" and the "Gravitation Lawyers", for example. No Moral Lawyers say that "Gravitation Lawyers" are wrong because it is wrong to drop heavy things on innocent people. Some do say that "Human Action Lawyers" are wrong because the latter point out that Minimum Wage Laws increase unemployment.

Moral Law is the highest law – no question. But Moral Law has to conform to Scientific Law – otherwise it is worthless. Moral Law has nothing to say about Gravity and nothing to say about Human Action.

No comments:

Post a Comment