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Reflecting on Law & Society

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What is law? Why do we need law? Does it matter where we get the information needed to answer these questions? What is something valuable that you have learned about how laws can affect society?

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The expert examines reflecting on law and society. Something valuable that has been learned is determined.

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As you know, we can't directly answer these kinds of questions. We CAN point you in a solid direction to get you going. (That's important in a topic so huge as this one).

These questions comprise the philosophy of law, which has a pedigree in the west going back (at least) to Plato.

Let me throw out a few ideas (and sources) for you (it's really all I'm permitted to do here):

Plato's concern for law, later accepted by the Roman Stoics, was that human beings must exist in universal reason. The laws of the well constituted state are to partake of the "forms," those spiritual realities of perfect justice and right that we humans can only approximate. For us, it is to live according to our rational thought as opposed to our rash and passionate impulses. This particular view is still alive in some circles today. It has SOME manifestation in the later "natural law" school of thought.

The more recent positivist writers deal primarily with law as utilitarian. The big questions revolve around that set of laws that will create the most happiness and satisfaction for the greatest number of people. It is not nature or the forms that matter, but how people react to law (and the legal order). The radical criticism of this is that law is often reflective only of the interest of those who have access to the halls of power. Making law automatically assumes that those who make the law have access to power, hence, law will reflect their interests.

Thomas Hobbes - Human beings are ultimately vicious - They need law to keep from killing each other (literally and figuratively). Law, then, is the responsibility of the state to protect life. That is the most we can hope for.

John Locke - Law is meant to do one thing: To adjudicate conflicts among property owners. Human beings are generally good, they care about their labor and what they own, and social life exists to protect these.

J.J. Rousseau - Human beings were better off without law. Law came into existence because property came into existence. Those with property wanted protection against those who have none. The only ...

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