A realist conception of law

Дата канвертавання20.04.2016
Памер47.93 Kb.
L. Chipman Gray


Definition of the Law
The Law of the State or of any organized body of men is composed of the rules

which the courts, that is, the judicial organs of that body, lay down for the determination

of legal rights and duties. The difference in this matter between contending schools of

Jurisprudence arises largely from not distinguishing between the Law and the Sources of

the Law. On the one hand, to affirm the existence of nicht positivisches Recht, that is, of Law which the courts do not follow, is declared to be all absurdity; and on the other hand,

it is declared to be an absurdity to say that the Law of a great nation means the opinions

of a half-a-dozen old gentlemen, some of them, conceivably, of very limited intelligence.

The truth is, each party is looking at but one side of the shield. If those half-a-

dozen old gentlemen fond the highest judicial tribunal of a country, then no rule or

principle which they refuse to follow is Law in that country. However desirable, for instance, it may be that a man should be obliged to make gifts which he has promised to make, yet if the courts of a country will not compel him to keep his promise, it is not the Law of that country that promises to make a gift are binding. On the other hand, those six men seek the rules which they follow not in their own whims, but they derive them from

sources often of the most general and permanent character, to which they are directed, by

the organized body to which they belong, to apply themselves. I believe the definitions of

Law that I have given to be correct; but let us consider some other definitions of the Law

which have prevailed and which still prevail.

Of the many definitions of the Law which have been given at various tunes and

places, some are absolutely meaningless, and in others a spark of truth is distorted by a

mist of rhetoric. But there are three theories which have commended themselves to

accurate thinkers, which have had and which still have great acceptance, and which deserve examination. In all of them it is denied that the courts are the real authors of the Law, and it is contended that they are merely tile mouthpieces which give it expression.


The "first of these theories is that Law is made up of the commands of the sover-

eign. This is Austin's view. "Every Positive Law," he says, "obtaining in any community, is a creature of the Sovereign or State, having been established immediately by a

subject individual or body, as exercising rights or powers of direct or judicial legislation,

which the monarch or supreme body has expressly or tacitly conferred.1
In a sense, this is true the State can restrain its courts from following this or that rule; but it often leaves them free to follow what they think right; and it is certainly a forced expression to say that one commands things to be done, because he has power (which he does not exercise) to forbid their being done.

Mr. A. B., who wants a house, employs an architect, Mr. Y. Z., to build it for him. Mr. Y. Z. puts up a staircase in a certain way; in such a case, nine times out of ten, he puts it up in that way, because he always puts up staircases in that way, or because the

books on construction say they ought to be so put up, or because his professional brethren

put up their staircases in that fashion, or because he thinks to put it up so would be a good

building, or in good taste, or because it costs him less trouble than to put it up in some

other way; he seldom thinks whether Mr. A. B. would like it in that way or not; and

probably Mr. A. B. never thinks whether it could have been put up in any other fashion. Here it certainly seems strained to speak, as Austin would do, of the staircase as being the "creature" of Mr. A. B.; and yet Mr. A. B. need not have had his staircase put up in that way, and indeed need never have had any staircase or any house at all.

When an agent, servant, or official does acts as to which he has received no express orders from his principal, he may aim, or may be expected to aim, directly at the satisfaction of the principal, or he may not. Take an instance of the first--a cook, in roasting meat or boiling eggs, has, or at any rate the ideal cook is expected to have, directly in view the wishes and tastes of her master. On the other hand, when a great painter is employed to cover a church wall with a picture, he is not expected to keep constantly in mind what will please the wardens and vestry; they are not to be in all his thoughts; if they are men of ordinary sense, they will not wish to be; he is to seek his inspiration elsewhere, and the picture when done is not the "creature" of the wardens and vestry; whereas, if the painter had adopted an opposite course, and had bent his whole energies to divining what he thought would please them best, he would have been their "tool," and the picture might not unfairly be described as their creature.

Now it is clear into which of these classes a judge falls. Where he has not received direct commands from the State, he does not consider, he is not expected to consider, directly what would please the State; his thoughts are directed to the questions—What have other judges held? What does Ulpian or Lord Coke say about the matter? What decision does elegantia juris or sound morals require?

It is often said by hedonistic moralists that, while happiness is the end of human

life, it is best attained by not aiming directly at it; so it may be the end of a court, as of

any other organ of a body, to carry out the wishes of that body, but it best reaches that

object by not directly considering those wishes.

Austin's statement that the Law is entirely made up of commands directly or

indirectly imposed by the State is correct, therefore, only on the theory that everything which the State does not forbid its judges to do, and which they in fact do, the State commands, although the judges are not animated by a direct desire to carry out the State's wishes, but by entirely different ones.


In this connection, the meaning of "Law," when preceded by the indefinite, is to be distinguished from that which it bears when preceded by the definite, article. Austin,

indeed, defines the Law as being the aggregate of the rules established by political

superiors; and Bentham says, "Law, or The Law, taken indefinitely, is an abstract and collective term; which, when it means anything, can mean neither more nor less than the sum total of a number of individual laws taken together. But this is not, I think, the ordinary meaning given to "the Law." A law ordinarily means a statute passed by the legislature of a State. "The Law" is the whole system of rules applied by the courts. The resemblance of the terms suggests the inference that the body of rules applied by the courts is composed wholly of the commands of the State; but to erect this suggestion into a demonstration, and say:--"the Law," "the Law" consists of nothing but an aggregate of single laws, and all single laws are commands of the State,--is not justifiable.

It is to Sir Henry Maine that we owe the distinct pointing out that Austin's theory

"is founded on a mere artifice of speech,” and that it assumes courts of justice to act in a way and from motives of which they are quite unconscious. ...Let it be understood that

it is quite possible to make the theory fit in with such cases, but the process is a mere

straining of language. It is carried on by taking words and propositions altogether out of

the sphere of the ideas habitually associated with them.

Austin's theory was a natural reaction against the views which he found in posses-

sion of the field. Law had been defined as "the art of what is good and equitable"; "that

which reason in such sort defines to be good that it must be done"; "the abstract expres-

sion of the general will existing in and for itself'; "the organic whole of the external

conditions of the intellectual life." If Austin went too far in considering the Law as

always proceeding from the State, he conferred a great benefit on Jurisprudence by bring-

ing out clearly that the Law is at the mercy of the State.


The second theory on the nature of Law is that the courts, in deciding cases, are, in truth, applying what has previously existed in the common consciousness of the people. Savigny is the ablest expounder of this theory. At the beginning of the System des heutigen romischen Rechts, he has set it forth thus: "It is in the common consciousness of the people that the positive law lives, and hence we have to call it Volkrecht

...it is the Volksrecht, living and working in all the individuals in common, which

begets the positive law, so that for the consciousness of each individual there is, not by

chance but necessarily, one and the same law.. The form, in which the Law lives in the

common consciousness of the people, is not that of abstract rule, but the living intuition

of the institute of the Law in its organic connection ...When I say that the exercise of

the Volksrecht in single cases must be considered as a means to become acquainted with

it, an indirect acquaintance must be understood, necessary for those who look at it from

the outside, without being themselves members of the community in which the

Volksrecht has arisen and leads its continuous life. For the members of the community,

no such inference from single cases of exercise is necessary, since their knowledge of it is

direct and based on intuition.

Savigny is careful to discriminate between the common consciousness of the

peop1e and custom: "The foundation of the Law," he says, "has its existence, its reality, in the common consciousness of the people. This existence is invisible. How can we become acquainted with it? We become acquainted with it as it manifests itself in external acts, as it appears in practice, manners, and custom: by the uniformity of a continuous and continuing mode of action, we recognize that the belief of the people is its common root, and not mere chance. Thus, custom is the sign of positive law, not its foundation.


Savigny is confronted by a difficu1ty of the same kind as confronted by Austin.

The great bulk of the Law as it exists in any community is unknown to its rulers, and it is only by aid of the doctrine that what the sovereign permits he commands, that the Law can be considered as emanating from him; but equally, the great bulk of the Law is

unknown to the people; how, then, can it be the product of their "common conscious-

ness"? How can it be that of which they "feel the necessity as law"?

Take a simple instance, one out of thousands. By the law of Massachusettes, a

contract by letter is not complete unti1 the answer of acceptance is received. By the law of New York, it is complete when the answer is mailed. Is the common consciousness of

the people of Massachusettes different on this point from that of the people of New

York? Do the people of Massachusettes feel the necessity of one thing as law, and the

people of New York feel the necessity of the precise opposite" In truth, not one in a

hundred of the people of either State has the dimmest notion on the matter. If one of

them has a notion, it is as likely as not to be contrary to the Law of his State.

Savigny meets the difficulty thus: "The Law, originally the common property of

the collected people, in consequence of the ramifying relations of real life, is so devel-

oped in its details that it can no more be mastered by the people generally. Then a sepa-

rate class of legal experts is formed which, itself an element of the people, represents the

community in this domain of thought. In the special consciousness of this class, the Law

is only a continuation and peculiar development of the Volksrecht. The last leads, hence-

forth, a double life. In its fundamental principles it continues to live in the common con-

sciousness of the people; the exact determination and the application to details is the

special calling of the class of jurisconsults."

But the notion that the opinions of the jurisconsults are the developed opinions of

the people is groundless. In the countries of the English Common Law, where the judges

are the jurists whose opinions go to make up the Law, there would be less absurdity in

considering them as expressing the opinions of the people; but on the Continent of

Europe, in Germany for instance, it is difficult to think of the unofficial and undetermi-

nate class of jurists, past and present, from whose writings so great a part of the Law has

been derived, as expressing the opinions of the people. In their reasonings, it is not the

opinions of the people of their respective countries, Prussia, or Schwartzburg-

Sonderhausen, which guide their judgement. They may bow to the authority of statutes,

but in the domain of Law which lies outside of statue, the notions of Law, if they exist

and are discoverable, which they are mostly not, of the persons wrong whom they live,

are the last things which they take into account. What they look to are the opinions of

foreign lawyers, of Papinian, of Accursius, of Cujacious, or at the elegentia juris, or at

“juristic necessity.”

The jurists set forth the opinions of the people no more and no less than any other

specially educated or trained class in a community set forth the opinions of that commu-

nity, each in its own sphere. They in no other way set forth the Volksgeist in the domain

of Law than educated physicans set forth the Volksgeist in the matter of medicine. It

might be very desirable that the conceptions of the Volksgeist should be those of the most skillful of the community, but however desirable this might be, it is not the case. The

Volksgeist carries a piece of sulphur in its waistcoat pocket to keep off rheumatism, and

thinks that butchers cannot sit on juries.

Not only is popular opinion apart from professional opinion in Law as in other

matters, but it has been at times positively hostile. Those who hold that jurists are the

mouthpieces of the popular convictions in matters of law have never been able to deal

satisfactorily with the reception of the Roman law in Germany, for that Law was brought

in not only without the wishes, but against the wishes, of the great mass of the people.


A third theory of the Law remains to consider. That theory is to this effect: The

rules followed by the courts in deciding questions are not the expression of the State's

commands, nor are they the expression of the common consciousness of the people, but,

although what the judges rule is the Law, it is putting the cart before the horse to say that

the Law is what the judges rule. The Law, indeed, is identical with the rules laid down

by the judges, but those rules are laid down by the judges because they are the law, they

are not the Law because they are laid down by the judges; or, as the late Mr. James C.

Carter puts it, the judges are the discoverers, not the creators, of the Law. And this is the

way that judges themselves are apt to speak of their functions.


This theory concedes that the rules laid down by the judges correctly states the Law, but it denies that it is Law because they state it. Before considering the denial, let us look a moment at the concession. It is a proposition with which I think most Common-Law lawyers would agree. But we ought to be sure that our ideas are not colored by the theories or practice of the particular system of law with which we are familiar. In the Common Law, it is now generally recognized that the judges have had a main part in erecting the Law; that, as it now stands, it is largely based on the opinions of past generations of judges; but in the Civil Law, as we shall see hereafter, this has been true to a very limited extent. In other words, judicial precedents have been the chief material for building up the Common Law, but this has been far otherwise in the systems of the Continent of Europe. But granting all that is said by the Continental writers on the lack of influence of judicial precedents in their countries to be true, yet, although a past decision may not be a source of Law, a present decision is certainly an expression of what the Law now is. The courts of France today may, on the question whether a bank endorsement of a bill of exchange passes title, care little or nothing for the opinions formerly expressed by French judges on the point, but, nevertheless, the opinion of those courts today upon the question is the expression of the present law of France, for it is in accordance with such opinion that the State will compel the inhabitants of France to regulate their conduct. To say that any doctrine which the courts of a country refuse to adopt is Law in that country, is to set up the idol of nicht positivisches Recht, and, therefore, it is true, in the Civil as well as in the Common Law, that the rules laid down by the courts of a country state the present Law correctly.

The great gain in its fundamental conceptions which Jurisprudence made during

the last century was the recognition of the truth that the Law of a State or other organized

body is not an ideal, but something which actually exists. It is not that which is in accor-

dance with religion, or nature, or morality; it is not that which ought to be, but that which

is. To fix this definitely in the Jurisprudence of the Common Law, is the feat that Austin accomplished. He may have been wrong in treating the Law of the State as being the command of the sovereign, but he was right in teaching that the rules for conduct laid down by the persons acting as judicial organs of the State are the Law of the State, and that no rules not so laid down are the Law of the State.

The Germans have been singularly inappreciative of Bentham and Austin, and, as

so often happens, the arrival at a sound result has been greatly hampered by nomencla-

ture. Ethics is, in Continental thought, divided into two parts, one dealing with matters

which can be enforced by external compulsion, and the other with those which cannot.

The former of these is called Rechtslehre. According to Kant, Moral philosophy (Meta-

physik der Sitten) is divisible into two parts: (1) the metaphysical principles of Jurispru-

dence (Rechtslehre), and (2) the metaphysical principles of ethics (Tugendlehre). Juris-

prudence has for its subject-matter the aggregate of all the laws which it is possible to

promulgate by external legislation. All duties are either duties of justice (Rechtspflict) or

duties of virtue Tugendpflicht). The former are such as admit of external legislation; the

latter are those for which such legislation is not possible. Rechtslehre, that is, deals not

only with the ru1es which the State has actually imposed upon conduct, but also with all

conduct which can be potentially subjected to such rules; and this has tended to obscure

the distinction between the rules which have actually been laid down from those which

might have been laid down. But of late years, the Germans, in their own way, have been

coming round to Austin's view; and now the abler ones are abjuring all nicht positivisches Recht.


To come, then, to the question whether the judges discover preexisting Law, or

whether the body of rules that they lay down is not the expression of preexisting Law, but

the Law itself. Let us take a concrete instance: On many matters which have come in

question in various jurisdictions, there is no doctrine received, semper, ubique, et ab

omnibus. For instance, Henry Pitt has built a reservoir on his land, and has filled it with

water; and, without any negligence on his part, either in the care or construction of his

reservoir, it bursts, and the water, pouring forth, floods and damages the land of Pitt's

neighbor, Thomas Underhill. Has Underhill a right to recover compensation from Pitt?

In England, in the leading case of Rylands v. Fletcher, it was held that he could recover,

and this decision has been followed in some of the United States--for instance, in Massa-

chusettes; but in others, as, I believe, in New Jersey, the contrary is held.

Now, suppose that Pitt's reservoir is in one of the newer States, say Utah, and sup-

pose, further, that the question has never arisen there before; that there is no statute, no

decision, no custom on the subject; the court has to decide the case somehow; suppose it

should follow Rylands v. Fletcher and should rule that in such cases the party injured can

recover. The State, then, through its judicial organ, backed by the executive power of the

State, would be recognizing the rights of persons injured by such accidents, and, there-

fore, the doctrine of Rylands v. Fletcher would be undoubtedly the present Law in Utah.

Suppose, again, that a similar state of facts arises in the adjoining State of Nevada, and that there also the question is presented for the first time, and that there is no statute, decision, or custom on the point; the Nevada court has to decide the case somehow; suppose it should decline to follow Rylands v. Fletcher, and should rule that in such cases the party injured is without remedy. Here the State of Nevada would refuse to recognize any right in the injured party and, therefore, it would unquestionably be the present Law in Nevada that persons injured by such an accident would have no right to compensation.

Let us now assume that the conditions and habits of life are the same in these two adjoining States; that being so, these contradictory doctrines cannot both conform to all ideal rule of Law, and let us, therefore, assume that an all-wise and all-good intel1igence, considering the question, would think that one of these doctrines was right and the other wrong, according to the true standard of morality, whatever that may be. It matters not, for the purposes of the discussion, which of the two doctrines it is, but let us suppose that the intelligence aforesaid would approve Ryland v. Fletcher, that is, it would think the Law as established in Nevada by the decision of its court did not conform to the eternal principles of right.

The fact that the ideal theory of Law disapproved the Law as established in Nevada would not affect the present existence of that Law. However wrong intellectually or morally it might be, it would be the Law of that State-to-day. But what was the Law in

Nevada a week before a rule for decision of such questions was adopted by the courts of

that State? Three views seem possible: first, that the Law was then ideally right, and

contrary to the rule now declared and practised on; second, that the Law was then the

same as is now declared practised; third, that there was then no Law on the matter.

The first theory seems untenable on any notion of discovery. A discoverer is a discoverer of that which is, --not of that which is not. The result of such a theory would be that when Underhill received the injury and brought his suit, he had an interest which

would be protected by the State, and that it now turns out that he did not have it, --a

contradiction in terms.


We have thus to choose between the theory that the Law was at that time what it

now is, and the theory that there was then no law at all on the subject. The latter is cer-

tainly the view of reason and common sense alike. There was, at the time in question, ex

hypothesi, no statute, no precedent, no custom on the subject; of the inhabitants of the

State not one out of a hundred had an opinion on the matter or had ever thought of it; of

the few, if any, to whom the question had ever occurred, the opinions were, as likely as

not, conflicting. To say that on this subject there was really Law existing in Nevada,

seems only to show how strong a root legal fictions can strike into our mental processes.

When the element of long time is introduced, the absurdity of the view of Law

preexistent to its declaration is obvious. What was the Law in the time of Richard Coeur

de Lion on the liability of a telegraph company to the persons to whom a message was

sent? It may be said that though the Law can preexist its declaration, it is conceded that

the Law with regard to a natural force cannot exist before the discovery of the force. Let

us take, then, a transaction which might have occurred in the eleventh century: A sale of

chattels, a sending to the vendee, his insolvency, and an order by the vendor to the carrier

not to deliver. What was the Law on stoppage in transitu in the time of William the


The difficulty of believing in preexisting Law is still greater when there is a change in the decision of the courts. In Massachusetts it was held in 1849, by the Supreme Judicial Court, that if a man hired a horse in Boston on a Sunday to drive to Nahant, and drove instead to Nantasket, the keeper of the delivery stable had no right to sue him in trover for the conversion of the horse. But in 1871 this decision was overruled, and the right was given to the stable-keeper. Now, did stablekeepers have such rights, say, in 1845? If they did, then the court in 1849 did not discover the Law. If they did not, then the court in 1871 did not discover the Law.


All this brings us to the reason why courts and jurists have so struggled to main-

tain the preexistence of the Law, why the common run of writers speak of the judges as

merely stating the Law, and why Mr. Carter, in an advance towards the truth, says of the judges that they are discoverers of the Law. That reason is the unwillingness to recognize the fact that the courts, with the consent of the State, have been constantly in the practice of applying, in the decision of controversies, rules which were not in existence and were, therefore, not knowable by the parties when the causes of controversies occurred. It is the unwillingness to face the certain fact that courts are constantly making ex post facto law.

The unwillingness is natural, particularly on the part of the courts, who do not

desire to call attention to tile fact that they are exercising a power which bears so unpopular a name, but it is not reasonable. Practically in its application to actual affairs, for most of the laity, the Law, except for a few crude notions of the equity involved in some of its general principles, is all ex post facto. When a man marries, or enters into a partnership, or buys a piece of land, or engages in any other transaction, he has the vaguest possible idea of the Law governing the situation, and with our complicated system of Jurisprudence, it is impossible it should be otherwise. If he delayed to make a contract or do an act until he understood exactly all the legal consequences involved, the contract would never be made or the act done. Now the Law of which a man has no knowledge is the same to him as if it did not exist.

Again, the function of a judge is not mainly to declare the Law, but to maintain the peace by deciding controversies. Suppose a question comes up which has never been

decided--and such questions are more frequent than persons not lawyers generally sup-

pose, --the judge must decide the case somehow; he will properly wish to decide it not on whim, but on principle, and he lays down some rule which meets acceptance with the

courts, and future cases are decided in the same way. That rule is the Law, and yet the

rights and duties of the parties were not known and were not knowable by them. That is

the way parties are treated and have to be treated by the courts; it is solemn juggling to

say that the Law, undiscovered and undiscoverable, and which is finally determined in

opposite ways in two communities separated only by an artificial boundary, has existed in both communities from all eternity. I shall recur to this matter when we come to consider the topic of Judicial Precedents.


It may be said that there are reasons, based on the highest welfare of the human race, why the Law should be so or otherwise, and that it is one of the functions and duties of a judge to investigate those reasons; that he is an investigator as much as, in his sphere, was Sir Isaac Newton; that he may make mistakes, just as Newton did; and yet that troth is largely discovered by his means. But the difference between the judges and Sir Isaac is that mistake by Sir Isaac in calculating the orbit of the earth would not send it spinning round the sun with an increased velocity; his answer to the problem would be simply wrong; while if the judges, in investigating the reasons on which the Law should be based, come to a wrong result, and give forth a rule which is discordant with the eternal verities, it is none the less Law. The planet can safely neglect Sir Isaac Newton, but the inhabitants thereof have got to obey the assumed pernicious and immoral rules which the courts are laying down, or they will be handed over to the sheriff.


It is possible to state the facts in the terms of discovery by use of a device familiar enough in the Common Law. We may say that the rule has always existed, and that the opinions and consequent action of the judges are only conclusive evidence that such is the rule; but this is merely a form of words to hide the truth. Conclusive evidence is not evidence at all; it is something which takes the place of evidence and of the thing to be proved, as well. When we say that men alone conclusively presumed to know the Criminal Law, we mean that men are to be punished for certain acts without regard to whether they know them to be against all the world, we mean that all the world are (sic) bound by a registered deed whether they know or not of its existence.

Rules of conduct laid down and applied by the courts of a country are coterminous with the Law of that country, and as the first change, so does the latter along with them. Bishop Hoadly has said: "Whoever hath all absolute authority to interpret any written or spoken Laws, it is he who is truly the Law-giver to all intents and purposes, and not the person who first wrote or spoke them"; a fortiori, whoever hath all absolute authority not only to interpret the Law, but to say what the Law is, is truly the Law-giver. Entia non multiplicanda. There seems to be nothing gained by seeking to discover the sources, purposes, and relations of a mysterious entity called "The Law," and then to say this Law is exactly expressed in the rules by which the courts decide cases. It is better to consider directly the sources, purposes, and relations of the rules themselves, and to call the rules "The Law."

There is a feeling that makes one hesitate to accept the theory that the rules fol-

lowed by the courts constitute the Law, in that it seems to be approaching the Law from

the clinical or therapeutic side; that it is as if one were to define medicine as the science

of the ru1es by which physicians diagnose and treat diseases; but the difference lies in

this, that the physicians have not received from the ruler of the world any commission to

decide what diseases are, to kill or to cure according to their opinion whether a sickness

is mortal; whereas, this is exactly what the judges do with regard to the cases brought

before them. If the judges of a country decide that it is Law that a man whose reservoir

bursts must pay the damage, Law it is; but all the doctors in town may dec1are that a man

has the yellow fever, and yet he may have only the German measles. If when a board of

physicians pronounced that Titius had the colic, ipso facto Titius did have the colic, then

I conceive the suggested definition of medicine would be unobjectionable.

To sum up. The State exists for the protection and forwarding of human interests,

mainly through the medium of rights and duties. If every member of the State knew per-

fectly his own rights and duties, and the rights and duties of everybody else, the State

would need no judicial organs; administrative organs would suffice. But there is no such

universal knowledge. To determine, in actual life, what are the rights and duties of the

State and of its citizens, the State needs and establishes judicial organs, the judges. To

determine rights and duties, the judges settle what facts exist, and also lay down rules

according to which they decide legal consequences from facts. These rules are the Law.



From The Nature and Sources of Law, by John Chipman Gray, New and revised edition copyright 1921 by Roland Gray (New York: Macmillan Co., 1921), pp. 84-112.

База данных защищена авторским правом ©shkola.of.by 2016
звярнуцца да адміністрацыі

    Галоўная старонка