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Christopher W. Morris on Sanctions - Dictionary of Arguments

Gaus I 200
Sanctions/Morris: It is hard to imagine a state in our world which did not coerce. Even if sanctions are not always in place or necessary, we should ask why most laws are in fact backed by sanctions and why coercion often is needed. Why must compliance sometimes be assured by coercion? At least on occasion, most of us will not do as we are required to do unless prodded. Presumably virtually all of us will always refrain from intentional homicide, but we do not always put coins in parking meters or adhere to speeding limits or pay all of our taxes in the absence of the threat of sanctions. Legal systems provide for sanctions in order to offer special incentives when people are not otherwise motivated to comply. Why exactly might people fail to comply? There are a
number of circumstances which contribute to disobedience. Sometimes we violate laws because of
ignorance or stupidity. Other times we may fail to obey out of weakness of the will or some other form of irrationality. We may sometimes simply wish to
Gaus I 201
defy authority.
Punch line: What is crucial to note about these rationales is that they implicitly understand sanctions to be secondary. Coercion and force are thus rationalized but only as supplementary measures. And this is as it should be: the law's primary appeal is to its authority. Hart notes
this early in his discussion of command theories of law: 'To command is characteristically to exercise authority over men, not power to inflict harm, and though it may be combined with threats of harm a command is primarily an appeal not to fear but to respect for authority' (1994(1): 20). Authorities guide behaviour by providing reasons for action to their subjects. Something is an authority in this sense only if its directives are meant to be reasons for action (see: Raz, 1979; 1986(2); Green, 1988(3)). One does not understand law and, more generally, states if one does not see coercion and force as supplementary to authority. Coercion and force are needed when the state's authority is unappreciated, defective, or absent. >Law/Morris, >Command/Hart.


1. Hart, H. L. A. (1994) The Concept of Law, 2nd edn. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
2. Raz, Joseph (1979) The Authority of Law. Oxford: Clarendon.
3. Green, Leslie (1988) The Authority of the State. Oxford: Clarendon.

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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