Laws & Courts

Thinking about some current U.S. legislative debates, specifically abortion and gun control, I started considering the source of different positions. In reviewing the arguments presented by multiple sides, there seems to be a fundamental divide based on assumptions about the purpose of laws.

One position holds that laws exist to prevent activities. For example: laws against shoplifting are written to prevent shoplifting.

The other major position holds that laws exist to provide socially acceptable punishment for socially unacceptable behavior. For example: shoplifting laws exist not to prevent shoplifting, but rather to explain and limit what happens when one is caught shoplifting.

These are related to the assumptions that form the basis of courts: guilty until proven innocent (burden of proof lies with the defense) versus innocent until proven guilty (burden of proof lies with the prosecution).

All of which is tied to worldbuilding. How a culture sees the purpose of its laws, and how its courts work, can have a significant influence on the society as a whole. Media views of accused criminals and civil rights immediately come to mind. The foundational belief about the roles of laws even affects which laws are enacted. If the view is that laws are enacted to prevent actions, then there’s really little point to laws against violence or theft. If, on the other hand, the view is that laws exist to proscribe punishment for transgression, then many laws make more sense.

2 comments on “Laws & Courts

  1. calmgrove says:

    There’s that observation, isn’t there, that perusal of a country’s laws tells you a lot about what people in that country actually do. There’s no point having laws about things that either nobody does or would think of doing. For example, a law dictating the use of snow chains or snow tyres would be pointless in a country in which it never snowed.

    But I take your point. Laws usually outline what an illegal act consists of and then prescribes penalties should one be convicted of doing it.


    • lordtaltos says:

      That too. There’s an argument that pre-Christian conversion a lot of European nations didn’t care about bestiality. Why? Because within months of conversion, the Christian authorities instituted laws against bestiality.


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