Laws of Men


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A refereed scholarly Website devoted to the study of Romantic-period literature and culture Whether law is something pertaining to reason

That which gives to human actions the relish of justice is a certain nobleness of gallantness of courage, rarely found, by which a man scorns to be beholden for the contentment of his life to fraud or breach of promise. This justice of the manners is that which is meant where justice is called a virtue, and injustice a vice. Again, the injustice of manners is the disposition or aptitude to do injury, and is injustice before it proceeds to act, and without supposing any individual person injured.

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But the injustice of an action, that is to say injury, supposeth an individual person injured, namely him to whom the covenant was made; and therefore many times the injury is received by one man when the damage redoundeth to another. As when the master commandeth his servant to give money to a stranger: if it be not done, the injury is done to the master, whom he had before covenanted to obey; but the damage redoundeth to the stranger, to whom he had no obligation, and therefore could not injure him.

And so also in commonwealths. Private men may remit to one another their debts, but not robberies or other violences whereby they are endamaged, because the detaining of debt is an injury to themselves, but robbery and violence are injuries to the person of the commonwealth. Whatsoever is done to a man conformable to his own will signified to the doer is no injury to him.

For, if he that doeth it hath not passed away his original right to do what he please by some antecedent covenant, there is no breach of covenant, and therefore no injury done him. And if he have, then his will to have it done being signified is a release of the covenant, and so again there is no injury done him. Commutative, therefore, they place in the equality of value of the things contracted for; and distributive, in the distribution of equal benefit to men of equal merit. As if it were injustice to sell dearer than we buy, or to give more to a man than he merits.

The value of all things contracted for is measured by the appetite of the contractors; and therefore the just value is that which they be contented to give. And merit, besides that which is by covenant, where the performance on one part meriteth the performance of the other part, and falls under justice commutative not distributive, is not due by justice, but is rewarded of grace only.


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And therefore this distinction, in the sense wherein it useth to be expounded, is not right. To speak properly, commutative justice is the justice of a contractor; that is, a performance of covenant in buying and selling, hiring and letting to hire, lending and borrowing, exchanging, bartering, and other acts of contract.

And distributive justice, the justice of an arbitrator; that is to say, the act of defining what is just. Wherein, being trusted by them that make him arbitrator, if he perform his trust he is said to distribute to every man his own; and this is indeed just distribution, and may be called, though improperly, distributive justice, but more properly equity, which also is a law of Nature, as shall be shown in due place.

For as that stone which by the asperity and irregularity of figure takes more room from others than itself fills, and for the hardness cannot be easily made plain, and thereby hindereth the building, is by the builders cast away as unprofitable and troublesome, so also a man that by asperity of nature will strive to retain those things which to himself are superfluous and to others necessary, and for the stubborness of his passions cannot be corrected, is to be left or cast out of society as cumbersome thereunto. For this law is consequent to the next before it, that commandeth pardon, upon security of the future time.

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The question who is the better man has no place in the condition of mere nature; where, as been shown before, all men are equal. The inequality that now is has been introduced by the laws civil. I know that Aristotle, in the first book of his Politics, for a foundation of his doctrine, maketh men by nature some more worthy to command, meaning the wiser sort, such as he thought himself to be for his philosophy, others to serve, meaning those that had strong bodies but were not philosophers as he; as if master and servant were not introduced by consent of men but by difference of wit, which is not only against reason but also against experience.

For there are very few so foolish that had not rather govern themselves than be governed by others; nor, when the wise in their own conceit contend by force with them who distrust their own wisdom, do they always, or often, or almost at any time, get the victory. If Nature therefore have made men equal, that equality is to be acknowledged; or; if Nature have made men unequal, yet because men that think themselves equal will not enter into conditions of peace but upon equal terms, such equality must be admitted.

If in this case, at the making of peace, men require for themselves that which they would not have to be granted to others, they do contrary to the precedent law, that commandeth the acknowledgement of natural equality, and therefore also against the law of Nature. The Greeks call the violation of this law [Greek], that is, a desire of more than their share. He therefore that is partial in judgment doth what in him lies to deter men from the use of judges and arbitrators, and consequently against the fundamental law of Nature, is the cause of war.

But some things there be that can neither be divided nor enjoyed in common. And therefore those things which cannot be enjoyed in common nor divided ought to be adjudged to the first possessor; and in some cases to the first born, as acquired by lot. And, seeing every man is presumed to do all things in order to his own benefit, no man is a fit arbitrator in his own cause, and if he were never so fit, yet, equity allowing to each party equal benefit, if one be admitted to be judge, the other is to be admitted also; and so the controversy, that is, the cause of war, remains against the law of Nature.

For the same reason no man in any cause ought to be received for arbitrator to whom greater profit, or honour, or pleasure, apparently ariseth out of the victory of one party than of the other; for he hath taken, though an unavoidable bribe, yet a bribe, and no man can be obliged to trust him.

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And thus also the controversy and the condition of war remaineth, contrary to the law of Nature. These are the laws of Nature, dictating peace, for a means of the conservation of men in multitudes, and which only concern the doctrine of civil society. There be other things tending to the destruction of particular men, as drunkenness and all other parts of intemperance; which may therefore also be reckoned amongst those things which the law of Nature hath forbidden, but are not necessary to be mentioned, nor are pertinent enough to this place.

The laws of Nature oblige in foro interno, that is to say, they bind to a desire they should take place; but in foro externo, that is, to the putting them in act, not always. And, again, he that, having sufficient security that others shall observe the same laws towards him, observes them not himself, seeketh not peace but war, and consequently the destruction of his nature by violence. And whatsoever laws bind in foro interno may be broken, not only by a fact contrary to the law but also by a fact according to it, in case a man think it contrary.

For, though his action in this case be according to the law, yet his purpose was against the law; which, where the obligation is in foro interno, is a breach. The laws of Nature are immutable and eternal; for injustice, ingratitude, arrogance, pride, iniquity, acception of persons, and the rest, can never be made lawful.

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For it can never be that war shall preserve life, and peace destroy it. For, in that they require nothing but endeavour, he that endeavoureth their performance fulfilleth them, and he that fulfilleth the law is just. And the science of them is the true and only moral philosophy. Nay, the same man in divers times differs from himself, and one time praiseth, that is calleth good, what another time he dispraiseth and calleth evil; from whence arise disputes, controversies, and at last war. The King's power is delegated out to other great lords of the realm.

The King's Peace is supposed to extend over the whole realm, and though small scale feuds or succession wars happen now and again, the constant wars between the independent Seven Kingdoms were put to an end when they were unified in the Targaryen Conquest three hundred years ago. The King's peace also extends to protection from outlaws and pirates. The Targaryen Conquest specifically forced the ironborn to abandon their Old Way of preying on the commercial shipping of Westeros itself though it is tacitly acknowledged that they instead raid the shipping and shores of other lands in Essos for plunder.

Individual lords are supposed to enforce the laws and carry out punishment on their own lands. Gaining the title of knighthood does not make a man a lord, though many knights do eventually become lords. Knighthood is a middle-step between noble-born lords and commoners. A commoner can be knighted for valorous service in battle, but the title is not hereditary. Successful landed knights who expand their holdings or continue to perform exemplary service for their liege may be raised to the rank of "Lord" in time, leading a minor noble House.

Sometimes a knight may skip some of these steps, and while rare it is not unheard of for a lord to reward a commoner for valorous service by granting him both land and the title of knighthood, as when Stannis Baratheon rewarded Davos Seaworth for his rescue of the garrison during the Siege of Storm's End.

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Thus the head of the House, Gregor Clegane , does not possess the legal right to hear trials and pass judgement. The society and legal system of the Seven Kingdoms recognizes a hereditary noble class set above a class of commoners, who are officially known as " smallfolk " the very name indicates their lower social standing. Members of the nobility are also known as " highborn ", while commoners are known as " lowborn ".

Nobles officially possess more legal rights than the commoners do.


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Many crimes for which a lowborn peasant would be punished by having their hand cut off a noble will only be punished for by paying a fine. The noble-born also have the right to demand a Trial by combat. Women, even noble-born women, do not have the same legal standing as men. Inheritance only falls on a woman if there are no males in her family ahead of her in line of succession.


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  6. However, women can rule in their own right if they have no surviving brothers and their brothers left no surviving heirs. An exception is Dorne , which allows equal inheritance. If the noble-born heir to a lordship is underaged or otherwise infirm and unfit to carry out their duties , a regent may be appointed to rule in their name. Members of religious organizations are a different section of society, technically not nobles but possessing special privileges that commoners do not possess.

    This of course primarily applies to the clergy of the Faith of the Seven , the dominant religion in the Seven Kingdoms. The religion of the Old Gods of the Forest , which is the dominant religion in the North, has no organized clergy at all. In the Iron Islands , the Drowned Men who serve as the priests for their local religion devoted to the Drowned God are also held in high social esteem.

    In past centuries, the Faith of the Seven had the power to conduct its own trials in ecclesiastical courts. However, they lost the right to hold trials after the Targaryen Conquest, when such public powers were brought under the exclusive control of the king on the Iron Throne.

    Bastard children of a noble, who have been acknowledged by their noble parent, are allowed to take a special bastard surname which signifies their status. Bastards are not allowed to inherit their parents' lands and have no place in the line of succession unless they are legitimized by special order of the king and allowed take their parents' surname, which rarely happens. Unacknowledged bastards, of course, cannot confirm that they are indeed the bastard child of a noble, and thus are legally considered commoners such as Gendry , who is secretly the unacknowledged bastard son of King Robert Baratheon.

    There is no outright law punishing noble men or women for having bastard children, instead it is considered a social and religious disgrace. This disgrace for having bastard children or being a bastard is not so great, however, in Dorne. The legal age of majority in the Seven Kingdoms is considered to be sixteen years of age this may have been changed to eighteen years in the TV series. A girl who has had her first blood is often seen as now capable of being married.

    The local laws in Dorne are somewhat different from the rest of the realm, as it joined the realm not through conquest but through peaceful marriage-alliance only a century ago, and was thus allowed to retain several local customs. In particular, Dorne practices equal primogeniture, in which the eldest child inherits regardless of whether they are male or female.

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