Law as Moral Habits

Humans are political animals because they cannot live in solitude. Humans live in societies, but unlike social insects, humans are empowered with rationality and the ability to judge right and wrong actions. This distinction clarifies what is lawful from what is unlawful. It is a common knowledge that disobeying the laws would have negative repercussions, such as penalties, sanctions, imprisonments, and even death. This implies that without laws, there would be nothing to disobey and therefore, there will be no punishments. In a sense, laws restrict or limit human actions within a society. Nonetheless, laws also empower individual and protect the citizens from harm from another person. Thus, it is important to look into the purpose of law. This would enlighten the readers, whether laws are necessary and if laws are being enacted properly.

Aristotle and Aquinas both argued that law ought to make men good. This essay would look into their explanation in order to justify the need to enact laws. Then, the essay would look into the manner in which laws are being used or applied in the contemporary setting. The elaboration of how laws are being legislated in the contemporary world would be discussed in relation to the observations and suggestions raised by Josef Pieper and George Will.

Aristotle elucidates the naturalness of associations prior to defining the purpose of law in order to substantiate its importance. Accordingly, associations are vital for the survival of the human species. An association starts with the relationship that exists between a man and a woman. This basic relationship, vital for reproduction, is a natural tendency driven mostly by instinct that exists intrinsically in living organisms. Another association is that of the ruler and the ruled. In a sense, Aristotle argued that those with intelligence would naturally be a master while those that lack expertise would be the slave. These two associations are present in the household. Nevertheless, the household in itself is not self-sufficient. This implies that a single household could not provide the basic needs of all its members. Thus, it is inevitable that households collaborate and form a village. Yet, a village could either establish friendship or form rivals among their neighbors. As a result, the different villages that are in friendly term, group together for the sake of mutual benefit and protection. At this point, a ruler and a constitution would be established and laws would be enacted and obeyed among the constituents.

According to Aristotle, we became just by doing what is just. Actions are either just or unjust. Justice is defined as the common interest. This implies that an unjust act is something that is not beneficial to the community. Justice is reflected through laws, which legislators devised in order to habituate people to do the good or right actions. Citizens that obey the commands of the law are therefore, good citizens. However, they may not be necessarily good men because a good citizen is defined by the constitution of government that he belongs. For example, good men would not kill but at the time of war, a good citizen is someone who defends the community and slays enemy soldiers. Specifically, Aquinas argued that law makes human beings good as much as their actions conduce to virtue. An action that does not lead to virtue is unjust and is therefore, unlawful. Laws obeyed out of fear of punishment are made in order to maintain virtue. Aquinas further clarified that if the lawmakers considered the common good, then the law they create could consequently, makes human beings absolutely good. However, if the lawmakers create laws out of self-interest, it will yield improper virtuous. For instance, Aquinas argued, tyrannical lawis not a lawrather a perversion of law. Laws are made to prevent the citizens from doing acts that are considered as wrong or evil. If a person would violate the law, the person would receive the necessary punishment. Nonetheless, despite the fact that laws also inflict punishments, these are necessary to persuade humans to do good things. Just actions or moral acts produce happiness.

Aristotle mentioned, Every community aims at some good, the community that has the most authority of all and encompasses all the others aims the highest good. It denotes the fact that the community aims for the ultimate good. In this regard, Aristotle claimed that happiness is the one end of all things. Therefore, the community aims for the highest happiness. Nevertheless, Aquinas also argued that the ultimate end of human life is happiness. These imply that both the individual and the community aim to achieve happiness.

Aristotle asserts that happiness seems to be the very antithesis of a busy life, in that it is compatible with perfect leisure. Since happiness and leisure are compatible, it follows that laws must also be compatible with leisure. In the current society, the term leisure is used to describe the free time that could be spent for relaxation. Nevertheless, Pieper argued, one of the foundations of Western culture is leisure for leisure in Greek is skole the English school. Understood in Greek terms, leisure is equivalent to contemplation.

Pieper, define leisure as a form of silencewhich is the prerequisite of the apprehension of reality. It is a form of silence that involves thinking and deliberation of important matters. Leisure is not about the quiet time that a person spends alone while watching television or sitting on the couch doing nothing. Leisure, during the ancient period is not the same as idleness. In fact, idlenessis the source of many faults and among others of that deep-seated lack of calm, which makes leisure impossible. Idleness means that the person is not working or simply being lazy.

Aristotle defined leisure as the property of the mind manifested through pure speculation that has no further end beyond itself, which is demonstrated with carelessness and all sufficiency. Unlike the thinking or studying done to learn about practical matters or practical affairs, leisure is done for its own sake. Aristotle acknowledges intellectual thinking as a leisure activity that consists final human happiness.

Law, according to Aquinas, is an order of reason for the common good, by one with authority, and promulgated. Therefore, the creation of law is made through the contemplation of the common good. Pieper distinguished the common good from the common need. Accordingly, the common need is a product of the practical mind. It is derived from the utilitarian world of work and toil. Pieper states work is a process of satisfying the common need.  Actions directed towards the common need are not leisure activities and does not involve thinking. Thus, the end of law is the common good created for the common benefit of citizens, whereas the end of work is the common need that satisfies the practical desires of the citizens.

Aquinas defended that the object of justice is the just, and that the just is equivalent to right. If the government ought to achieve justice, then it must uphold what is right. Laws are defined as written decree that reflects what is right. Thus, the laws that are being enacted are the right and these rights are just.

Aristotle asserts, the government is administered according to law. George Will highlighted that the aim of the government is justice. Thus, laws must reflect justice. Justice as discussed above depends on the common good. Justice implies equality or the mean. The highest good is happiness, which implies that the goal of the government is to ensure the happiness of the citizens. However, this does not mean that the government should give whatever the citizens wanted. After all, the government is established to protect and regulate the community.

The rule of law, according to Aristotle, is preferable than the rule of man because law is reason not affected by desire. Consider the scenario if the law is based on desires. Desires refer to personal interests. The fulfillment of personal benefits implies the practical nature of the common needs. If laws would be directed towards the common needs, it would create a community where the people in power are able to abuse their authority to their hearts content. Thus, the existence of the rule of law could prevent subjective rulers from doing whatever, they want. It also maintained a government structure that would not be swayed by the whims of the citizenry.

The above discussion reflects that law should not be affected by passion. However, Will mentioned that the purpose of politics is to facilitate the existence of worthy passions and the achievements of worthy aims. Aristotle also argued that laws ought to be passionless. If politics must facilitate passion and law must be devoid of passion, then the only way for these two premises to be compatible is to assume that politics is different from law. This is a very useful differentiation provided that Aristotle had already distinguished the difference between the rule of man and the rule of law. It seems then that Will is describing politics as the rule of man.

Will agrees with Madison regarding the danger of tyrannical majorities. In a democratic system, as discussed by Aristotle, there is a chance that the majority would impose their rule upon the citizens. In a republic, the risk is even greater because there are only a few men that represent the citizens.

If laws would be affected by the desire, then it would possibly lead to a Machiavellian type of governance where the only thing that is important for the ruler is the maintenance of order and keeping of power. George Will argued that mans reason is enslaved to natural passions. He supported this claim by citing Jeremy Bentham, who stated, Nature has placed mankind under the governance of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure. Both of these are elements of passion. Blackstone argued, the only true and natural foundations of society are the wants and fears of individuals.

Hobbes described, the voluntary acts of every man, the object is some good to himself. If the government is made voluntarily, then its purpose must be something good, or at the least, its purpose must be the avoidance of pain and the promotion of pleasure. This is the same in the case of the law. Since this is the case, then Will asserted that the social good is the aggregate of whatever effects individuals produce through voluntary arrangements. This is applicable in a democratic regime, where everyone could make a voluntary and directly affect matters of governance. However, George Will pointed out that the defect in the United States republic is particularly concerned with the treatment of self-interests and the public good. Will explained that the current perception treat society as an arena where self-interested individuals are unintentionally united in unconscious obedience to general laws and unwitting production of public good. In this regard, the social good could not be achieved because the people are obeying the laws unconsciously.

Will suggested that morality should be legislated by the government. Morality is concerned with human actions unlike the practical science which are concerned with human operations. Aristotle claimed, moral virtue is acquired by habit. In addition, it was already mentioned that the public is habituated to do good through laws. Thus, Wills suggestion implies that the current government is not legislating morality. The current government is acting based on the idea that humans are self-interested and that the government, along with its laws, is created to protect the individual self-interest.

Humans are social animals. They live together and form associations for the sake of survival and mutual benefit. They strive to become self-sufficient. Taking into account the various needs of human beings, a self-sufficient association would require a large number of individuals. Self-sufficiency could not be attained if the members are in conflict. Thus, it is important to create standards and delineate right from wrong actions. If the laws were not directed towards the common good, then tyranny would result. Laws are enacted to make men good. Laws are generated through the contemplation of the common good. The rule of law does not exhibit passion, which makes the authority of law more objective than human. The law defines those things that are considered as right and proper by the constitution. Laws are essential in informing the populace about moral actions and moral virtues.   Laws are also important in protecting and prohibiting actions, especially selfish acts. The above discussion shows that if laws were not enacted or if laws could not make men good, then chaos would ensue.


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