Someone recently bought our

students are currently browsing our notes.


What Should Law Regulate Notes

Law Notes > Jurisprudence Notes

This is an extract of our What Should Law Regulate document, which we sell as part of our Jurisprudence Notes collection written by the top tier of Oxford students.

The following is a more accessble plain text extract of the PDF sample above, taken from our Jurisprudence Notes. Due to the challenges of extracting text from PDFs, it will have odd formatting:

What should law regulate?
NB: 'GD' means Great Debates by Sandy Steel and Nicholas McBride

What do we mean by 'regulate'?
Dworkin: "A conception of law must explain how what it takes to be law provides a general justification for the exercise of coercive power by the state. … Each conception's organising centre is the explanation it offers of this justifying force."
Focusing on Dworkin's idea shows that when we talk about 'what should the law regulate',
we are usually talking about 'what should the law coercively regulate'.

Feinberg: Coercion = the imposition of criminal punishment
Hart/Austin: Coercion = threat of undesirable consequences
Mill: Coercion = whenever you are forcing people to do things

What the law is justified in regulating through non-coercive measures is another question.
Background moral theory and the harm principle
The law enforces morality + [something else].

1. The [something else] is provided for by some background moral theory.
a. For example, Mill's background moral theory is founded on the notion of liberty (in terms of freedom from the tyranny of the majority).

2. Many theories employ the harm principle when determining the legitimate sphere of legal control, though the harm principle in itself has no specific content and leads to no policy conclusions.
a. "[The harm principle] is a normative concept acquiring its specific moral meaning from the moral theory within which it is embedded".
i. I.e. the harm principle is the conclusion of a moral argument
There are two parts to any theory which says what the law should regulate:
(A) What positive reason is there for the law?
 In other words, a justification for the law's operation.
 Since law is non-optional, it must be justifiable in principle.
 Many accept the moral ecology argument below.
(B) What negative reason is there to limit the law?
 Mill: Liberty
 Raz: Autonomy
 Ripstein/Hart: Right to independence
(A) What positive reason does the state have to enforce morality?

1. Lord Devlin: To prevent social disintegration (refuted by Hart)
a. It is a part of the nature of society that its members share a common morality
 sanctions are necessary to ensure conformity to the common morality, or else society will disintegrate (i.e. stop existing). i. Devlin therefore argued for the enforcement of positive morality (the majority view of morality), as opposed to critical morality (forming judgments based on sound, reasoned arguments).
b. Hart: Two objections:
i. If society is identical with its common morality, then non-conformity to the common morality is simply the common morality changing.
ii. Empirical argument: many people do not agree on morality, but their communities still exist. So long as there is agreement on core morals
(i.e. murder and theft are wrong), society will not disintegrate.
Disagreement on morality occurs in many functioning societies.

2. Robert George: To preserve society's moral ecology (built on by Raz)
a. The state has reason to preserve a society's moral ecology by taking steps to provide people with a suitable environment to pursue morally valuable activities (and to discourage immoral activities which might destroy that environment).
b. The premise is irresistible: that it is better that truly morally valuable activities are undertaken and prosper than less morally valuable activities -
this is consistent with value pluralism!
(B) If one accepts the moral ecology argument, the question then becomes: when is the state, if ever, justified in using coercion to secure such an environment?
Limits on the use of coercion:

1. Hart, Ripstein: The right to independence a. People have a right to be free from coercion of others except where it is necessary to prevent them from coercing others. Thus, someone's freedom cannot be restricted in order to encourage them to act morally.
i. Hart: The purpose of 'rights' is to justify interference with another's freedom. This justification is only necessary because there is a basic right to be free from interference.
ii. Ripstein: Narrower conception of independence. To interfere with a person's freedom is not merely to close off one or more of their options, but to 'dominate' them: to make the decision for them or to destroy their ability to pursue their own purposes.
b. If there is a right to independence, how does this justify the enforcement of morality?
i. Ripstein: The only circumstances in which an interference with another's independence is justified is to protect others' independence
 ensures equal freedom. If the law justified interference on any other basis, it would be deciding what purposes a person pursues. 1. GD: Right to independence certainly rules out coercion, but less intrusive measures could be used without constituting

2. Dworkin: The liberal conception of equality and respect a. Governments are required to treat their subjects with 'equal concern and respect' - a government treats subjects with unequal respect if it favours one citizen's conception of a morally valuable life over another's.
i. Raz: Treating a person in accordance with sound moral principles does not involve a failure to respect that person. ((Raz assumes some moral principles are 'sound'  this argument seems to rest on the cognitivist/non-cognitivist debate.))
ii. Finnis: The failure to encourage or assist people to lead morally valuable lives can itself entail an inequality of respect. To leave a stranger to succumb to a drug addiction when one would not treat a family member similarly constitutes a lack of 'equal concern and respect'.

3. Raz: Autonomy a. It is legitimate for the state to ensure that people enjoy a range of morally valuable options as to how to live their lives, but coercion is only justified when used to protect someone's capacity to live their life autonomously: it is not justified when used in order to enforce morality. Using coercion for any purpose other than protecting autonomy (i.e. morality) is self-defeating, as coercion necessarily restricts autonomy by (1) violating the autonomycondition of independence, and (2) imprisonment precludes a person from almost all autonomous pursuits.

4. Rawls: Justice a. The first principle of justice is that "each person has the same indefeasible claim to a fully adequate scheme of equal basic liberties". Everyone will enjoy an equal measure of freedom to pursue their own conceptions of 'good', and the state cannot make it easier to pursue certain lifestyles on the basis that those lifestyles are particularly worthwhile and fulfilling.
What about non-coercive measures?

Thaler and Sustein's book Nudge is based on the finding that human beings labour under certain cognitive biases that consistently encourage them to make suboptimal choices. The state can play on these biases by 'nudging' (encouraging)
people to participate in desirable behaviour or avoid undesirable behaviour. Nudges are non-coercive means of encouragement, e.g. advertising, PSAs, tax incentives, etc.
o Some argue that nudges are akin to manipulation and constitute an insult,
treating someone as incapable of making good decisions.
 While nudges are manipulative in that they try to influence people's choices through non-rational means, but they are not very serious interferences as they only interfere with someone's ability to make a

Buy the full version of these notes or essay plans and more in our Jurisprudence Notes.