Document Type

Article

Publication Date

1998

Center/Program

Center for Law and Philosophy

Abstract

Some men think that the earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King's command make it round? And if it is round, will the King's command flatten it?

These are the words of Thomas More as interpreted by Robert Bolt in his play A Man for All Seasons. More invokes the issue of scientific truth to question Parliament's authority to determine whether King Henry VIII should be recognized as the head of the Church of England. The point is well taken. When the issue is scientific truth, those with lawmaking authority cannot decide. Yet More's insight is not limited to empirical truths about the natural world. Philosophical truths are also beyond the competence of the legislature. There is something ridiculous about a legislature intermeddling in a philosophical dispute say, by deciding whether Immanuel Kant's moral theory is superior to Jeremy Bentham's. The point is so obvious that one wonders how any legislature could think differently. Yet some do. Some codes legislate the basic philosophical concepts on which they depend. Others function in a more subtle collaboration with the creative output of scholars and courts.

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