Law as a Reflection of Emotion and Human Nature

Hendrik Gommer, A BIOLOGICAL THEORY OF LAW, Chapter 7, pp. 131-159, Seattle: Amazon, 2011

27 Pages Posted: 30 May 2011

See all articles by Hendrik Gommer

Hendrik Gommer

CIS Law; University of Groningen

Date Written: May 26, 2011


Although many sociobiologists are reticent to state that prescriptives reflect descriptives, such a derivation, if arrived at prudently, is inevitable to make a major step forward in integrating biology, psychology, sociology and law. Our normative behavior should be in line with our biological drives, mediated by our emotions that clearly have biological causes. The results of the research presented in this article justify the conclusion that some intuitions on harm are very strong, especially when they concern our next of kin. Our intuitions on harm done to out-group people are more open to circumstantial and cultural influences. Through law, strangers can also be treated as group members. Although law cannot be reduced to biology, biological mechanisms can improve our understanding of some basic notions underlying our laws. The main conclusion is that legal punishment and law reflect our emotions and therefore underlying biological mechanisms. The greater the harm inflicted, the greater our shock and the stronger our punitive response. This correlation seems to be exponential, which supports the idea that punishment reflects the level of shock and is in fact an accurate measurement of how shocked people are. In other words, our normative valuations reflect our factual state of mind.

Keywords: naturalistic fallacy, punishment, emotion, justice, law, biology, in-group, out-group, human nature

Suggested Citation

Gommer, Hendrik, Law as a Reflection of Emotion and Human Nature (May 26, 2011). Hendrik Gommer, A BIOLOGICAL THEORY OF LAW, Chapter 7, pp. 131-159, Seattle: Amazon, 2011. Available at SSRN:

Hendrik Gommer (Contact Author)

CIS Law ( email )

De Bongerd 2A
Zuidhorn, Groningen 9801 AS


University of Groningen ( email )

P.O. Box 800
9700 AH Groningen, Groningen 9700 AV

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