Two Kinds of Law

“Ariel, make sure you’re home before dark.” That’s a prescription. A law telling us what to do. The expected reward for following a prescription is health (improved/sustained/maintained).

The father is an authority. Law cannot exist without authority: authority to define laws, and to recompense or condemn. An authority is an entity that has a just cause to be obeyed. This is why law lies with authority.

“Uriel, don’t miss the deadline!” That’s a proscription. A law telling us what to skip. There is no reward for obeying a proscription. One only succeeds at avoiding negative consequences. So that every proscription is a direct threat.

Prescriptive laws say, in some sense, that everyone is sick or susceptible to sickness. And so  prescribes a pattern of living and response to stimuli that lead to, or keep one on, the path of health or longevity.

Proscriptive laws say explicitly that we are all well until we cross ‘the line’; that there is an authority over us; that crossing the line is what is bad for us; that it is bad for us because of associated negative consequences.

One speaks to promise of gain, the other, to threat of loss.

A wife said you her husband, “don’t go there.” That’s different from her saying, “stay here.” ‘Don’t go there’ tells her husband of a certain potential loss or suffering that he might experience for disobedience. ‘Stay here’ tells him that it is to the health of their home that he obeys.

“Ariel, I know that guy likes you. But I don’t like him.” is an implicit prescriptive law that Ariel may choose to defy. Defying authority leaves the authority with several options: To create exceptions, change the law, or condemn—even though the authority by ‘itself’ may/can not effect punishment or correction. Many consequences are left to natural law, sometimes called karma, but applied to this life not the next.

Breaking either kind of law is sin, i.e., to miss the mark. Do we see the ‘marks’ for the laws we’ve made for our selves, and the religious (spiritual, societal, institutional, philosophical religions), national, familial, organisational … laws we follow? It is the mark that justifies the law. Thus we can ask the question: is the mark itself just.

Every prescription and proscription must have a mark, otherwise, they cannot stand. The marks must be just, otherwise, we could call them unlawful. The reasonableness of any resulting laws notwithstanding, it is just for parents to be concerned for the safety of their children. It is likewise just for a business to want to ensure that they meet their obligations; a prevalent obligation being to ensure continued existence. And, any human law that contradicts a natural law cannot be lawful; it can only be legal. Any law that contradicts the constitution is illegal given the nature of a constitution.

The Ten Commandments is like a constitution. And it has a ratio of 4:1, proscriptive to prescriptive laws. (Its two prescriptive laws are notable and instructive: honour the Sabbath, the day of rest, and honour your parents.) A contraction of it and other laws into two prescriptive laws is to Love God with all one is, and to love our neighbours as ourselves. These two values were said to constitute the basis of ‘the law and the prophets’ in the Old Testament.

What might this view of laws mean for running our households, businesses, corporations etc.? Many laws can be framed either way. And the way we choose determines our goal and meaning. If we only tell people what the can’t or shouldn’t do, then they’re free to be or do everything else. When there are few ‘thou shalt nots,’ it could be scary what this might lead to. If we only tell people what they ought to do, then they are being taught to become a certain kind of person or to lead a certain kind of life along certain lines.

Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?
And he said to him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy understanding.
This is the great and first commandment.
And the second is like it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
On these two commandments the whole law and the prophets hang.
(Mat 22:37-40, Darby)