Law. A general command or a general prohibition, the prescription of a
general rule or a general procedure. "All things that are have some
operation not violent or casual. Neither doth anything ever begin to
exercise the same, without some fore-conceived end for which it worketh.
And the end which it worketh for is not obtained unless the work be also
fit to obtain it by. For unto every end every operation will not serve.
That which doth assign unto each thing the
kind, that which doth moderate the force and power, that which
doth appoint the form and measure of working, the same we term a
law.(1) They who thus are accustomed to speak, apply the name of
law unto that only rule of working which superior authority imposeth; whereas we somewhat more
enlarging the sense thereof term any kind of rule or canon whereby
actions are framed a law." (2)
Not moral agents alone, but the whole
universe is under law; and Hooker, agreeably to his own definitions,
pronounces God to work according to law, being a law to Himself. We thus
come to speak of laws in Nature whensoever we have discovered invariable
sequence in outward phenomena. We say it is a law (the law of
gravitation) in virtue of which an apple falls to
the ground, a law of hydrostatics which raises water to the level of its
spring, and hinders it from rising further. Concerning all which
Archbishop Whately has the following:—"It" (law) "is also used in a
transferred sense, to denote the statement of some general fact,
the several individual instances of which exhibit a conformity to that
statement, analogous to the conduct of persons in respect to a
law which they obey. It is in this sense that we speak of 'the laws of
Nature.' When we say that 'a seed in vegetating directs the radicle
downwards and the plumule upwards, in compliance with a law of Nature,'
we only mean that such is universally the fact; and so, in other
"It is evident, therefore, that, in this sense, the conformity of
individual cases to the general rule is that which constitutes a law of
Nature. If water should henceforth never become solid, at any
temperature, then the freezing of water would no longer be a law of
Nature: whereas in the other sense" (law imposed on moral agents) "a
law is not the more or the less a law from the conformity or
non-conformity of individuals to it. If an act of our legislature were
to be disobeyed and utterly neglected by everyone, it would not on that
account be the less a law.
"This distinction may appear so obvious when plainly stated, as hardly
to need mention: yet writers of great note and ability have confounded
these two senses together; I need only mention Hooker (in the opening of his great work) and Montesquieu: the
latter of whom declaims on the much stricter observance in the universe
of the laws of Nature, than in mankind of the Divine and human laws laid
down for their conduct: not considering that, in the former case, it is
the observance that constitutes the law." (3)
This is clever but fallacious. Whately confounds law of Nature with our
knowledge of it, nay, with our enunciation of that knowledge. We have
discovered an invariable fact, have we therefore discovered that there
is no reason for that fact, or no one who because of the reason ordained
the fact? One ingenious author seems to think it of the essence of law
in the primary sense of the word that it should be possible to disobey
Whately might have seen the fallacy of his distinction, had he
considered that our inferring the existence of a law in the primary
sense may be as much the result of observation of facts as in the case
of natural laws. A Frenchman may be supposed to come to England, and to
live on such intimate terms with many, as to be cognisant of their
methods of procedure, without having ever looked at the English laws
regulating wills. But when he finds that every acquaintance on making
his testamentary dispositions, has, at whatever expense of trouble, a
couple of witnesses to attest the document, he will surely infer that
such a provision is the consequence of a law of some kind, whether statutory or by custom, a
law the observance of which is requisite to give validity to the will.
Yet Whately would hardly have said that the compliance with it is that
which constitutes the law.
I have dwelt upon this because Whately's doctrine seems to me not merely
an error but a mischievous one. We hear too much in the present day
about law without recognition of its necessary correlative a lawgiver.
Yet does not law imply mind? As law it is surely a thought, and can
there be a thought without a thinker?
(1) HOOKER, Ecc. Polity, book I. c. 2, 1.
(2) Ibid., book I. c. 3, 1.
(3) WHATELY'S Logic, Appendix, art. " Law."