• If good is to be rewarded and evil is to be punished, how do we define good and evil?
  • Should we be obeying the law no matter what the content?
  • What if the law itself is evil?
  • The philosophers we will be looking at are a few of the influential thinkers of their day.
  • Ancient, historical, and contemporary philosophies
  • Influenced contemporary legal thought in North America

Plato (428 – 348 BCE)

  • Famous works: Dialogues and The Republic
  • In Dialogues, Plato tried to explain justice through a series of question-and-answer conversations with Socrates
  • His (Greek) society did not meet his standards of justice
  • A just person is a reflection of a just society
  • An ideal (or just) society is one in which every person performed to the best of his or her abilities
  • However since all people are unequal, the ideal ruler would be a “Philosopher King” – selected not by birth but on the basis of his or her achievements, education, and ability to rule.
  • At first Plato believed that law was too general and abstract, and that it failed to recognize the differences between people.
  • He eventually realized that it would be difficult to find a philosopher king and that without one, who could rule without being corrupted?
  • Therefore, there was a need for Law.

Aristotle (384 – 322 BCE)

  • Early Greek philosopher, left home at 17 to study under Plato.
  • Different approach to the study of jurisprudence then Plato
  • Believed that justice should aspire to equality
  • Just = lawful, equal and fair
  • Human hardship could be cured by equity – the fair sharing of resources among members of a community
  • However, he did NOT believe that resources should be shared EQUALLY
  • JUSTICE = equal and unequal sharing of wealth based on the worthiness of the recipient
  • Opposed Oligarchies – where only those born into the upper class could rule
  • Was in favour of a “MERITOCRACY” – a society in which individuals are rewarded based on their own merit and performance of civic duties
  • Also believed that justice should be done with equity, i.e. departing from the law on a particular case.

Thomas Aquinas (1225 – 1274)

  • Wealthy, well-educated, but became a Dominican Friar (preacher) for a time
  • Expert philosopher, especially on Aristotle.
  • Law is chiefly ordained to the common good” and the intention of the law-maker should be to “lead men to virtue
  • He did not assume that law makes people good, but rather “that man obeys a law due to him being good”
  • Tyrannical law is not law, it is a perversion of law
  • Good is to be done and pursued, avoid evil.

John Locke (1632 – 1704)

  • English philosopher, studied at Oxford University.
  • Two Treaties of Civil Government influenced politics in England at the time
  • He did not believe that collective rights were more important than individual rights
  • Positive law of a country is embedded in a constitution
  • But, the constitution itself had to be based on natural law (natural law emphasizes individual rights)
  • We have the right to self-preservation, but the law should restrain people from hurting one another
  • Believed that the state, and its ability to make laws, was subject to limits –
  • Fundamental rights of life, liberty, and property
  • Natural law
  • Believed that the sole purpose of government is to protect individuals against the arbitrary acts of others who would interfere with their freedom.
  • French and American Revolutions and the foundation of Canadian constitutional law.

John Rawls (1921 – )

  • an American philosopher and a leading figure in moral and political philosophy
  • The Theory of Justice
  • The Veil of Ignorance:
  • The only way a legal system can achieve fairness and ensure that decisions are rational and unbiased is if no one in the society knows his status or the extent of their wealth.
  • Legal systems should strive towards this ideal
    • i.e., legal aid

Noam Chomsky (1948 – )

  • Famous and controversial present day philosopher.
  • Linguist and political activist
  • Believes that Law primarily serves those in power
  • There is cooperation between the elite class of citizens and the law makers to make laws that maintain the status quo and the wealth and power of the elite.
  • Media plays a big part in this by withholding serious information,
  • Masses are happy and ill-informed.
author avatar
William Anderson (Schoolworkhelper Editorial Team)
William completed his Bachelor of Science and Master of Arts in 2013. He current serves as a lecturer, tutor and freelance writer. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, walking his dog and parasailing. Article last reviewed: 2022 | St. Rosemary Institution © 2010-2024 | Creative Commons 4.0

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