Law in General (Part 1)

Cicero in the Senate

Notion of law:

In a very wide sense of the term, law is a rule by which a being is moved to action or withheld from it. In a sense, we speak of law even in reference to irrational beings; v.g., the laws of physics.


In a wide sense, law is a rule of actions which are dependent on reason; v.g., the laws of art.


In a more restricted sense, law is the remote and extrinsic norm of the morality of human acts. Thus any precept is a law; v.g., the precept of a father, of a master, etc.


Law, in its strict and proper sense, is a rule of human acts given to a community which commands what accords with right reason.


Real definition of law:


Law—in its strict and proper sense, is defined: an ordinance of reason designed for the common good, and promulgated by one who has charge of the community.


Ordinance—in its modern acceptation, sometimes signifies the act of commanding, and sometimes the act of establishing order. As used in the definition, it means a dictate which establishes an order or disposition. a.) for the attainment of a due end. b.) by means which are proportionate to the end.


Ordinance of reason—for only reason, which alone is competent to devise means for the attainment of an end, can establish the relation of one thing to another.


This may be proved briefly. Law is a rule of human acts. But the rule of human acts is reason: for reason is the first principle of human acts; and that which is the first principle in any genus is the rule and measure of that genus; v.g., unity is the genus of numbers. Therefore it follows that law is something which pertains to reason.


Hence, although law presupposes an act of the will, it formally derives from reason. For law is a motive ordinance of reason, and ordinance given only in as much as the will tends to an end, i.e., wills an end.


Designed for good—if it were an ordinance for evil, it would not truly be a law.


For the common good—for reason, in its direction of human acts, is concerned with the ultimate end, i.e., with happiness, which is the first principle of human acts. Therefore, since law is an ordinance of reason, it is concerned chiefly with the direction of human acts to happiness, and, indeed, to the happiness of the community: for the happiness of the community exceeds the good of one man, who is only a part of the community.


By one who has charge of the community—law is an ordinance designed for the common good. Now the establishing of an order or disposition for the attainment of the common good is the function of the community, or of a public person charged with the care of the community, for, in all matters, the directing of anything to the end is the concern of him who is charged with the care of the end.


Promulgated—promulgation, which is a condition that is absolutely required for the validity, i.e., the binding force, of a law, is the public notice or intimation of the law, not the knowledge of it. For it is the promulgation of a law, not the knowledge of it, which makes a law binding on those subject to it.




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