An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation

Chapter XVII

Of the Limits of the Penal Branch of Jurisprudence.

§ 2. Jurisprudence, its branches.

XXI. Jurisprudence is a fictitious entity: nor can any meaning be found for the word, but by placing it in company with some word that shall be significative of a real entity. To know what is meant by jurisprudence, we must know, for example, what is meant by a book of jurisprudence. A book of jurisprudence can have but one or the other of two objects: 1. To ascertain what the law is: 2. to ascertain what it ought to be. In the former case it may be styled a book of expository jurisprudence; in the latter, a book of censorial jurisprudence: or, in other words, a book on the art of legislation.

XXII. A book of expository jurisprudence, is either authoritative or unauthoritative. It is styled authoritative, when it is composed by him who, by representing the state of the law to be so and so, causeth it so to be; that is, of the legislator himself: unauthoritative, when it is the work of any other person at large.

XXIII. Now law, or the law, taken indefinitely, is an abstract and collective term; which, when it means any thing, can mean neither more nor less than the sum total of a number of individual laws taken together. It follows, that of whatever other modifications the subject of a book of jurisprudence is susceptible, they must all of them be taken from some circumstance or other of which such individual laws, or the assemblages into which they may be sorted, are susceptible. The circumstances that have given rise to the principal branches of jurisprudence we are wont to hear of, seem to be as follows: 1. The extent of the laws in question in point of dominion. 2. The political quality of the persons whose conduct they undertake to regulate. 3. The time of their being in force. 4. The manner in which they are expressed. 5. The concern which they have with the article of punishment.

XXIV. In the first place, in point of extent, what is delivered concerning the laws in question, may have reference either to the laws of such or such a nation or nations in particular, or to the laws of all nations whatsoever: in the first case, the book may be said to relate to local, in the other, to universal jurisprudence.

Now of the infinite variety of nations there are upon the earth, there are no two which agree exactly in their laws: certainly not in the whole: perhaps not even in any single article: and let them agree today, they would disagree to-morrow. This is evident enough with regard to the substance of the laws: and it would be still more extraordinary if they agreed in point of form; that is, if they were conceived in precisely the same strings of words. What is more, as the languages of nations are commonly different, as well as their laws, it is seldom that, strictly speaking, they have so much as a single word in common. However, among the words that are appropriated to the subject of law, there are some that in all languages are pretty exactly correspondent to one another: which comes to the same thing nearly as if they were the same. Of this stamp, for example, are those which correspond to the words power, right, obligation, liberty, and many others.

It follows, that if there are any books which can, properly speaking, be styled books of universal jurisprudence, they must be looked for within very narrow limits. Among such as are expository, there can be none that are authoritative: nor even, as far as the substance of the laws is concerned, any that are unauthoritative. To be susceptible of an universal application, all that a book of the expository kind can have to treat of, is the import of words: to be, strictly speaking, universal, it must confine itself to terminology. Accordingly the definitions which there has been occasion here and there to intersperse in the course of the present work, and particularly the definition hereafter given of the word law, may be considered as matter belonging to the head of universal jurisprudence. Thus far in strictness of speech: though in point of usage, where a man, in laying down what he apprehends to be the law, extends his views to a few of the nations with which his own is most connected, it is common enough to consider what he writes as relating to universal jurisprudence.

It is in the censorial line that there is the greatest room for disquisitions that apply to the circumstances of all nations alike: and in this line what regards the substance of the laws in question is as susceptible of an universal application, as what regards the words. That the laws of all nations, or even of any two nations, should coincide in all points, would be as ineligible as it is impossible: some leading points, however, there seem to be, in respect of which the laws of all civilized nations might, without inconvenience, be the same. To mark out some of these points will, as far as it goes, be the business of the body of this work.

XXV. In the second place, with regard to the political quality of the persons whose conduct is the object of the law. These may, on any given occasion, be considered either as members of the same state, or as members of different states: in the first ease, the law may be referred to the head of internal, in the second case, to that of international jurisprudence.

Now as to any transactions which may take place between individuals who are subjects of different states, these are regulated by the internal laws, and decided upon by the internal tribunals, of the one or the other of those states: the case is the same where the sovereign of the one has any immediate transactions with a private member of the other: the sovereign reducing himself, pro re natâ, to the condition of a private person, as often as he submits his cause to either tribunal; whether by claiming a benefit, or defending himself against a burthen. There remain then the mutual transactions between sovereigns, as such, for the subject of that branch of jurisprudence which may be properly and exclusively termed international.

With what degree of propriety rules for the conduct of persons of this description can come under the appellation of laws, is a question that must rest till the nature of the thing called a law shall have been more particularly unfolded.

It is evident enough, that international jurisprudence may, as well as internal, be censorial as well as expository, unauthoritative as well as authoritative.

XXVI. Internal jurisprudence, again, may either concern all the members of a state indiscriminately, or such of them only as are connected in the way of residence, or otherwise, with a particular district. Jurisprudence is accordingly sometimes distinguished into national and provincial. But as the epithet provincial is hardly applicable to districts so small as many of those which have laws of their own are wont to be, such as towns, parishes, and manors; the term local (where universal jurisprudence is plainly out of the question) or the term particular, though this latter is not very characteristic, might either of them be more commodious.

XXVII. Thirdly, with respect to time. In a work of the expository kind, the laws that are in question may either be such as are still in force at the time when the book is writing, or such as have ceased to be in force. In the latter case the subject of it might be termed ancient; in the former, present or living jurisprudence: that is, if the substantive jurisprudence, and no other, must at any rate be employed, and that with an epithet in both cases. But the truth is, that a book of the former kind is rather a book of history than a book of jurisprudence; and, if the word jurisprudence be expressive of the subject, it is only with some such words as history or antiquities prefixed. And as the laws which are any where in question are supposed, if nothing appears to the contrary, to be those which are in force, no such epithet as that of present or living commonly appears.

Where a book is so circumstanced, that the laws which form the subject of it, though in force at the time of its being written, are in force no longer, that book is neither a book of living jurisprudence, nor a book on the history of jurisprudence: it is no longer the former, and it never was the latter. It is evident that, owing to the changes which from time to time must take place, in a greater or less degree, in every body of laws, every book of jurisprudence, which is of an expository nature, must in the course of a few years, come to partake more or less of this condition.

The most common and most useful object of a history of jurisprudence, is to exhibit the circumstances that have attended the establishment of laws actually in force. But the exposition of the dead laws which have been superseded, is inseparably interwoven with that of the living ones which have superseded them. The great use of both these branches of science, is to furnish examples for the art of legislation.

XXVIII. Fourthly, in point of expression, the laws in question may subsist either in the form of statute or in that of customary law.

As to the difference between these two branches (which respects only the article of form or expression) it cannot properly be made appear till some progress has been made in the definition of a law.

XXIX. Lastly, The most intricate distinction of all, and that which comes most frequently on the carpet, is that which is made between the civil branch of jurisprudence and the penal, which latter is wont, in certain circumstances, to receive the name of criminal.

What is a penal code of laws? What a civil code? Of what nature are their contents? Is it that there are two sorts of laws, the one penal the other civil, so that the laws in a penal code are all penal laws, while the laws in a civil code are all civil laws? Or is it, that in every law there is some matter which is of a penal nature, and which therefore belongs to the penal code; and at the same time other matter which is of a civil nature, and which therefore belongs to the civil code? Or is it, that some laws belong to one code or the other exclusively, while others are divided between the two? To answer these questions in any manner that shall be tolerably satisfactory, it will be necessary to ascertain what a law is; meaning one entire but single law: and what are the parts into which a law, as such, is capable of being distinguished: or, in other words, to ascertain what the properties are that are to be found in every object which can with propriety receive the appellation of a law. This then will be the business of the third and fourth sections: what concerns the import of the word criminal, as applied to law, will be discussed separately in the fifth. {Concluding note}

[IPML, Chapter XVII, § 1]