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(Trans. Alfred J. Freddoso)


Human Law



Was it useful for laws to be made by men?


It seems not to have been useful for laws to be made by men:


Objection 1:  As was explained above (q. 92 , a. 1), the intention behind every law is that men should become good through it.  But men are better led toward the good voluntarily through admonitions than by being coerced through laws.  Therefore, it was unnecessary to make laws.


Objection 2:  As the Philosopher says in Ethics 5, men have recourse to a judge as one who embodies ‘living justice’ (justum animatum).  But living justice is better than the non‑living justice contained in laws.  Therefore, it would have been better to entrust the administration of justice to the decisions of judges rather than to issue laws over and beyond this.


Objection 3:  As is clear from what was said above (q. 90, a. 1-2), every law directs human acts.  But since human acts comprise individual cases that are infinite in number, not everything that is relevant to directing human acts can be adequately taken into account except by some wise man who investigates the individual cases.  Therefore, it would have been better for human acts to be directed by the decisions of wise men rather than by any law that might be made.  Therefore, it was unnecessary to make human laws.


But contrary to this:  In Etymologia Isidore says, “Laws have been made in order that human boldness might be held in check by fear of them, and in order that the innocent might be safe among the wicked, and in order that the ability of the wicked themselves to do harm might be curbed by their fear of punishment.”  But these things are especially necessary for the human race.  Therefore, it was necessary to make human laws.


I respond:  As is clear from what was said above (q. 63, a. 1 and q. 94, a. 3), man has a natural aptitude for virtue.  It is through discipline, however, that he arrives at the perfection of virtue—just as we likewise see that it is man’s industriousness that helps him acquire his necessities, e.g., food and clothing, with respect to which nature gives him certain initial resources, viz., his faculty of reason and his hands, but not full satisfaction—unlike the other animals, to whom nature has given adequate food and outer protection.
But it is not easy for a man to be self‑sufficient with respect to the discipline required for virtue.  For perfecting a virtue is mainly a matter of restraining a man from inappropriate pleasures of the sort to which men are especially drawn—and, above all, young people, with whom discipline is more effective.  And so men have to receive from others the sort of training through which virtue is acquired.  Now, to be sure, paternal discipline, which makes use of admonitions, is sufficient for those young people who are inclined toward acts of virtue by a good natural temperament, or by upbringing (consuetudo), or, rather, by a gift of God.  However, because there are some who are impudent and prone to the vices and who cannot be not easily moved by words, it was necessary to restrain them from evil through force and fear, so that (a) ceasing to do evil, they might at least leave others to a peaceful life, and so that (b) in the end they might be led by this sort of habituation to the point of doing voluntarily what they were previously doing out of fear and so become virtuous.
Now the sort of discipline in question, which coerces by the fear of punishment, is the discipline of laws.  Hence, it was for the sake of virtue and of peace among men that laws had to be established.  For as the Philosopher says in Politics 1, “Just as man, if he is perfected in virtue, is the best of the animals, so, too, if he is cut off from the law and from justice, he is the worst of all animals.”  For unlike the other animals, man has the weapons of reason to fulfill his lustful desires and his taste for savage violence.


Reply to objection 1:  Well‑disposed men are best led to virtue by voluntarily heeded admonitions rather than by coercion, but ill-disposed men are not led to virtue unless they are coerced.


Reply to objection 2:  As the Philosopher says in Rhetoric 1, “It is better for all things to be regulated by law than left to the decision of judges.”  There are three reasons for this.
First, a few wise men—which is enough to make good laws—are easier to find than a large number of wise men—which is what it would take to judge cases correctly one by one.
Second, lawmakers spend a long time considering what should be imposed by law, whereas judgments about individual cases are made quickly as the cases arise.  Moreover, a man can more easily see what is right if he considers many instances than if he considers just a single instance.
Third, lawmakers make judgments that apply to all cases (in universali) and are future-oriented, whereas the men who render judgments are judging about present matters, concerning which they are affected by love or hate or some kind of excessive desire, and in this way their judgments become perverted.
Therefore, since there are not many cases of a judge’s ‘living justice’ of a judge, and since such justice can be skewed (est flexibile), it was necessary for the law to determine what judgments should be made in as many cases as possible and to leave very few cases to the decisions of men.


Reply to objection 3:  As the Philosopher says in the same place, certain individual cases which cannot be included in a law—e.g., “those concerning what has or has not been done” and other things of this sort—“must be entrusted to judges.”





I-II, q. 90, The Essence of Law

I-II, q. 91, The Different Kinds of Law

I-II, q. 92, The Effects of Law


Eternal law

I-II, q. 93, Eternal Law

Natural law

I-II, q. 94, The Natural Law

Human law

I-II, q. 95, Human Law

I-II, q. 96, The Force of Human Law

I-II, q. 97, Changes in Human Law

The old law

I-II, q. 98, The Old Law

I-II, q. 99, The Precepts of the Old Law

I-II, q. 100, The Moral Precepts of the Old Law

I-II, q. 101, The Ceremonial Precepts of the Old Law in Themselves

I-II, q. 102, The Causes of the Ceremonial Precepts

I-II, q. 103, The Duration of the Ceremonial Precepts

I-II, q. 104, The Judicial Precepts of the Old Law

I-II, q. 105, The Nature of the Judicial Precepts

The new law

I-II, q. 106, The Law of the Gospel, called the New Law, in Itself

I-II, q. 107, The Relation between the Old Law and the New Law

I-II, q. 108, The Contents of the New Law