SENTENTIA COTIDIANA VIII (21/07/2021)

'"The Law is Reason free from Passion", now does anyone know who spoke those immortal words?' asks Professor Stromwell.


David's hand shoots up.


'Yes!' she replies calmly and with just a hint of disbelief.


'Aristotle!' says David confidently.



I expect some of you will be familiar with the above scene from the terrific film Legally Blonde. It is a great quotation and a brilliant choice for the first class of a law degree. But what does Aristotle actually mean?


The quotation comes from section 1287a32 of his monumental Politics. Aristotle at this point is examining whether one man should be allowed to rule over others. Turning to absolute monarchy, he notes that some argue that such a government is contrary to nature, especially if a community contains several citizens of equal calibre. How is it just to allow just one to rule? Those who are of equal nature, thought, and sense of justice should not be unequally treated in terms of the honours and offices granted to them. This is why, he goes on, regulation is needed to ensure one does not obtain more power than the other to the complete exclusion of his equal peers. This is where law comes in. Law is the regulation of power and fairness in terms of who governs and is governed. Therefore, it is law that should govern. Where a group of men are deemed fit to govern, it then becomes their duty to respect the law and govern according to it. Where a man or men govern without law to regulate their behaviour, their community is rendered vulnerable to human appetite and desire, Law must, therefore, be made without 'passion' or desire.


We might respond to this. we;; who is going to make the law then? Surely men have to make it, and on your reasoning, Mr Aristotle, men are subject to desire and how, therefore, can any law made by them be without desire? Aristotle was no fool and knew this problem well. It is one he goes on to deal with. He believed in the collective wisdom of the people and that this was fairer than one man rule.


The above passage is not part of his discussion on how law is be most fairly and effectively made. What he is saying here is that some code needs to exist which regulates the behaviour of those in power. To let them be the law is not only unfair, it's dangerous.

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