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Christopher W. Morris on Law - Dictionary of Arguments

Gaus I 201
Law/Morris: (...) recourse to sanctions and force, (...) does not mean that laws cannot provide reasons or motivate without such sanctions or that they must presuppose them. The law claims authority, and that claim may often be valid. Unless one assumes that norms per se cannot be reasons, then there should be no reason to insist that legal rules must necessarily be backed up with sanctions. But given human nature we should expect them to be an important part of virtually all legal and political orders. >Sanctions/Morris, >Coercion/Morris, >Coercion/Political philosophy, >Command/Hart.
What does it mean to say that law is ultimately backed by sanctions or ultimately a matter of force? The term 'ultimate' is one of the most opaque in philosophy and social theory and should be used with care. In some contexts the term has a clear sense. An authority, for instance, may be ultimate if it is the highest authority. This idea presupposes that authorities constitute an ordering (often a strict ordering), and that the highest authority is the last one in a certain chain or continuum of authorities.
MorrisVs: Even if we were able to find in every legal system a hierarchical ordering of authorities, it is very unlikely that powers generally will be so ordered. That is, it is very unlikely that we can order power relations in this way, so that for any pair of powers one is greater than the other and the set of all powers is an ordering (i.e. transitive). If this is right, it means that the concept of an ultimate power will be ill-defined. This means that it is unclear and likely misleading to
talk of 'ultimate' powers, for there may never be one power that is so placed that it is 'ultimate' or 'final' (see Morris, 1998(1): ch. 8).


1. Morris, Christopher W. (1998) An Essay on the Modern State. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Morris, Christopher W. 2004. „The Modern State“. In: Gaus, Gerald F. & Kukathas, Chandran 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. SAGE Publications


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Morris, Christopher W.
Gaus I
Gerald F. Gaus
Chandran Kukathas
Handbook of Political Theory London 2004


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