Freedom, Benefit and Understanding: Reflections on Laurence Claus's Critique of Authority

29 Pages Posted: 19 Nov 2014

See all articles by John Finnis

John Finnis

Notre Dame Law School; University of Oxford - Faculty of Law

Date Written: November 17, 2014


Written for a symposium in the University of San Diego Law School in September 2013 on Laurence Claus, Law’s Evolution and Human Understanding (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), this article appears in the final issue of volume 52 of the San Diego Law Review. With new illustrations and considerations suggested by the book, the article argues for a number of theses: “Because I/we say so” is never a reasonable ground or formulation of authoritative acts such as enactments or parental or other orders. The moral authority of rule makers is never peremptory in a binary (all or nothing) as distinct from presumptive and defeasible sense. Deliberation towards the exercise or acceptance of authority is never primarily a matter of prediction or predictability of action, and is always a matter, rather, of purpose, and of creation by intelligent design than of non-purposive evolution. Those who exercise authority have no right to be obeyed, and the persons with the right correlative to a duty of compliance are those for whose benefit the rule or order was made and/or those who comply with it. The authority to make rules is a responsibility to serve the true interests of a community to which those subject to the rule belong.

Keywords: Authority, Responsibility, Obligation, Raz, Hart, Realism

Suggested Citation

Finnis, John M., Freedom, Benefit and Understanding: Reflections on Laurence Claus's Critique of Authority (November 17, 2014). San Diego Law Review 52 (2014) 893-920, Oxford Legal Studies Research Paper No. 76/2014, Notre Dame Legal Studies Paper No. 1443, Available at SSRN:

John M. Finnis (Contact Author)

Notre Dame Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 780
Notre Dame, IN 46556-0780
United States

University of Oxford - Faculty of Law ( email )

University College
High Street
Oxford, England OX1 4BH
United Kingdom

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