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throssog's avatar

What is the purpose of law and from whence does it draw its authority?

Asked by throssog (795 points ) July 13th, 2011

Where does law come from – not legislation, the very idea of binding agreement(s) among persons. What authority does law have, where does this authority come from and what is the purpose of law as law?

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18 Answers

marinelife's avatar

Binding agreements between people are contracts, not law.

Law is the rules by which a society chooses to conduct itself.

The authority that it comes from is the authority of the society. That is, that people within that society agree to abide by its laws in order to remain part of the society.

john65pennington's avatar

It’s civil law, not criminal. Any disputes, over a binding contract, are heard in civil court, not criminal. Big difference in the two.

lillycoyote's avatar

@throssog Are you talking big picture here? By “binding agreements” are you talking about legal contracts or are you talking more about the “social contract?”

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zenvelo's avatar

Whatever authority arises from a group, tribe, or society to an individual or representatives is what grants the authority to make rules(laws) for the protection and management of the group.

That authority is enforced by whatever segment of society has control of violence in the society (police or army).

A tribe or clan may elect a leader, either through some religious rite, or through the strongest member , or through another organizing principal. As societies grow, they need more formal methods.

The use of the term “binding agreements” is not appropriate. There is no “binding agreement”, otherwise laws would never be broken, and governments would never be overthrown.

roundsquare's avatar

I remember asking this question a long time ago… all I can come up with is effectively what @zenvelo said. Someone gain the ability to control violence within a group of people and that leads people doing what they say.

Eventually, it gets institutionalized, i.e. people just begin to accept it, because they think they will be better off if everyone follows the rules (even if certain rules in particular make someone worse off). The whole is more than the sum of the parts.

Schroedes13's avatar

Laws are meant to keep people from exhibiting their true human nature! I have a very jaded view of human nature and I believe that many times the only reason someone do exactly what they want all the time is because of consequences. Law helps show people that there are consequences for actions.

Schroedes13's avatar

I’m a very Hobbesean thinker in that sense!

incendiary_dan's avatar

The law exists in order to maintain a system by which resource extraction can be facilitated by the rulers or ruling class. Law derives its power from the monopoly on violence that these rulers set up in order to protect their occupation.

poisonedantidote's avatar

Law gets it’s authority from violence. If you refuse to colaborate, they have to resort to violence.

The idea that police and government have authority is wrong, they simply have the bigger stock pile of weapons. Give the gangs better weapons than the cops and the table will turn.

ucme's avatar

Well without law what you’re essentially left with is anarchy & we can’t have that now can we?

the100thmonkey's avatar

What is the purpose of this 1st year university homework?

incendiary_dan's avatar

@ucme anarchy from the Greek meaning “without rulers”: an-archy, like mon-archy “single ruler”. A state of anarchy is not a state of chaos and rulelessness, at least not necessarily. Law, to use the terms of Harry Redner, is the technification of ethics. Perhaps the “toxic mimic” of rules and ethics cast in the backdrop of various levels of empire and totalitarianism. Many societies ancient and modern have functioned without rulers holding a monopoly on violence, without the societies themselves being particularly violent.

ucme's avatar

@incendiary_dan Quite, alas where I hail from if the laws of the land were not adhered to, the excrement would surely strike the wind turbine.
Whilst that may be fun, for a spell at least, i’m relatively happy maintaining the status quo…..for the time being.

roundsquare's avatar

@poisonedantidote Historically, you are pretty much correct, but I don’t that’s entirely true. Many people feel moral obligations to follow the law even if there is little to no chance of being caught and therefore punished. For example, there are a lot of places I could easily shoplift, but I’d never even consider it. I could also probably get away with bigger types of fraud if I tried but, again, I would feel bad about whoever got hurt in the process.

Okay @incendiary_dan, your statements about society have been intriguing me for a while now. Any good book suggestions? I have a long plane ride in two weeks.

incendiary_dan's avatar

@roundsquare Anything by Derrick Jensen, Chellis Glendinning, or Lierre Keith.

Jellie's avatar

The legal system has developed into it’s modern face due our needs to interract socially. This interraction of course is not limited to simply talking but also engaging in activities, business deals, relationships etc. If we go back to when we roamed the earth as clans and tribes we had the most basic, if any, law at all. It is just a natural development.

The authority it has is only the acceptance of the people to be honest. And the purpose of law as law is to allow us to live the best life we can under the current circumstances.

throssog's avatar

Obviously “law” is a concept not too familiar to most of us. Law can (and has been) fiat, i.e., the word/wishes of a King/Tyrant, et alia…or it can be the expressed will of a, or some group, or it can be the evolution of social contract – it can be the expressed agreement of the populace which finds itself in need of and desiring, some rules as to behavior as a group. This last is the most rare and the most demanding.
Great experience has been had with all of the other sorts.
As to “authority”? It is from the acceptance , or lack of acceptance by those who have either agreed or found themselves subjected to its rules.
Purpose? Imho, to protect the powerless from the powerful and the powerful from those with less power. It makes a lousy form of social engineering methods. But then, it seems I am in a distinct minority, eh? :)

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