How laws are created: rethinking our freedoms

TRU philosophy professor discusses his research about how the life and death of laws

On March 13, Tom Fitzjohn discussed his research to colleagues and those interested, regarding how laws are created and how they shape a community. This arts colloquium session was titled The birth, life, and death of laws: Hegel’s account of the dynamic forces that shape the laws of a community. This session focused on how laws are perceived in communities all around the globe, specifically using examples that many may know, like a stop sign.

Fitzjohn talked about the different ways laws are created and why we follow them, the positive and negative elements of law and the life cycle of laws.

He discussed how laws are created, and how, if people of a community follow that law, they become apart of that community. Using the stop sign as an example, Fitzjohn went on to talk about how important the stop sign is in some communities, but in others it might not be. By obeying the stop sign, it shows how the community chooses to live. In Kamloops, obeying stop signs is important at every intersection but in Mexico, as one attendee pointed out, you would be seen as ludicrous to stop at some signs. 

As humans, we always have the option to choose, but if we want to be apart of the Kamloops community, for example, we’re likely to choose to stop. This option to choose contributes to our freedom.

Then there are the two elements to law: the positive element and the negative element. The positive element refers to how we are able to do things, but it’s our choice if we actually do them. For example, we have the choice to commit suicide, but whether or not we do it is up to ourselves. The negative element refers to how we have the option to negate laws and choose to not follow them. Referring to the stop sign example, people can choose to ignore the law or follow it. That is our choice. Laws can never be perfect as people will always be able to go against them.

Something rather strange to think about is how laws actually have a life cycle. Laws come into existence for a reason, but they also cease to exist in some cases as well. When a law is born, it is a commitment shared by the community, like choosing to follow the law of stopping at a stop sign. The life of a law exists when the community is continually vitalizing the law by participating in it, like how the stop sign law is being vitalized as people continue to follow it. In certain cases, a law may have to die because it is no longer be utilized and the commitment is no longer being followed. For example, if a stop sign is no longer being followed in a rural area and no accidents have been happening, the stop sign may be taken out of commission.

Humans always have the choice on all matters, whether that be following a stop sign or not, the choice is always there. The only thing affecting that freedom is whether or not we want to be apart of the community.