Philosophy, Psychology

and Humanities Web Site



Francis Garden - 1878 - Table of contents

Diccionario filosófico
Complete edition

Diccionario de Filosofía
Brief definition of the most important concepts of philosophy.


A Dictionary of English Philosophical Terms Francis Garden

Vocabulary of Philosophy, Psychological, Ethical, Metaphysical
William Fleming

Biografías y semblanzas Biographical references and lives of philosophers

Brief introduction to the thought of Ortega y Gasset

History of Philosophy Summaries

Historia de la Filosofía
Explanation of the thought of the great philosophers; summaries, exercises...

Historia de la Filosofía
Digital edition of the History of Philosophy by Jaime Balmes

Historia de la Filosofía
Digital edition of the History of Philosophy by Zeferino González

Vidas, opiniones y sentencias de los filósofos más ilustres
Complete digital edition of the work of Diogenes Laertius

Compendio de las vidas de los filósofos antiguos

A brief history of Greek Philosophy
B. C. Burt


A Short History of Philosophy





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 cases.

"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 it.

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."



© TORRE DE BABEL EDICIONES - Edition: Isabel Blanco  - Legal notice and privacy policy