San Diego Law Review


John Finnis

Document Type

Laurence Claus's Law's Evolution and Human Understanding


With wide-ranging and illuminating determination, Law’s Evolution and Human Understanding offers a refutation of the illusion of authority. No one, it rightly contends, has the right to be obeyed. Still less, as it correctly says, do any persons have the right that their say so be obeyed because they said so. Given the book’s stipulative definition of “authority,” these truths entail that authority is an illusion, and provide some important premises for a plausible further conclusion or pair of conclusions: it is harmful, both in practice and in theory, to say that some person or body has authority (“the rule of men”); and harmful to offer to explain law (or the law, or “the rule of law”) as a result of authority; and perhaps harmful even to say that it is authoritative. Stipulative definitions are free, and it is absurd to contest them. But we are entitled to demur when a stipulated definition diverges—as the book’s definition of authority does, widely—from the patterns of use and meaning established amongst reflective speakers in a self-conscious culture, or from the concepts deployed in a rationally sound body of critical discourse such as ethics, political philosophy or (tucked in under these) the philosophy of law. So I will say a bit about this divergence, and then a bit about some of the other, related matters and engaging vistas that Laurence Claus opens up for us on his bracing, enjoyable and instructive exploratory hike through some of the High Sierras of human community. I shall touch on seven rather overlapping topics or clusters of topics: duties of compliance; predictions and expectations; responsibilities; purposes; decisions; presumptions; and evolution by intelligent design.