Law as a tool of philosophy: whether good or erroneous philosophy – need for legitimacy and common good

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legitimacy and common good

Food and drugs are important for the sustenance of human life; while food directs the growth of the body, drugs poison[1] undesired growths in the body, and drug/food supplements enable the food to work properly. An individual that diets properly may not need drugs for a long time, but if he does not diet well, his body and immune system become exposed to malignant developments – sicknesses. Plants, chemicals and other materials are used for producing both food and drugs, but in different processes and proportions. In social arrangement, the ingredients are different thoughts in a society; served food is their social philosophy, drug is criminal law and drug/food supplement is civil law.[2] Without adequate philosophy, there may not be any law that can sustain peace and progress in a society, especially if it lacks legitimacy and common good. But where there is a high standard of morality (achieved through proper education), there is no need for law.[3]

PHILOSOPHY is the continuous and logical evaluation of the beliefs that influence and affect humans in their search for good life in their environment.[4] It evaluates beliefs about the nature, causes and purpose of beings, in order to discover their proper role for harmonious living.[5] These evaluations lead to the formulation and prescription of philosophies (beliefs, practices and conducts) for harmonious living and fulfilment. Societies teach these beliefs, practices and conducts to their people, and still evaluate their correctness by the societal results. Hence, education is the transfer of a people’s philosophy – beliefs and practices – to other people. Philosophy is to the society what food is to the body, bringing either health or sickness depending on the quality of the food.[6] The quality of a people’s philosophy is measured by the average level of harmony, productivity and progress in the society.


Just as drugs and supplements are important to the body, HUMAN LAWS (criminal and civil) are important for the society. Types of law include human or positive law, which are made by humans to guide society, divine law (imposed by religion) and natural law – scientific laws to be discovered through research.[7] Though divine and natural law are important for understanding and relating with the environment, this article is concerned with human law. This is because human laws formally bond people together in a society by prescribing or prohibiting conducts by coercion and punishments.


LAW is an ordinance of reason, made and promulgated for the common good by those who have legitimate charge of a community or society.[8] Unlike other definitions, this is a philosophical definition of law that highlights the essence, source, reach and purpose of law. It emphasizes the primacy of LEGITIMACY (free consent of the governed)[9] and COMMON GOOD in making laws. Other definitions present law as “a collection of rules imposed by authority,”[10] or “a rule of conduct imposed and enforced by the state”, without stating the purpose and legitimacy. These latter definitions seem open to exploitation by smartly cruel people for suppression in many parts of the world.


Man is a rational and social animal, who requires other people’s help and companionship to fulfil his purpose.[11] The purpose for forming a society is for man to obtain the things he needs to develop his potentials and live happily. The structure and mode of social organization is determined by the people’s philosophy (understanding, belief) of themselves, others and the resources.[12] While some view humans equally as potential collaborators in using resources for common good, others view humans unequally as potential tools for individual/sectional satisfaction. The difference between harmoniously progressive societies and discordantly retrogressive societies is the philosophy (beliefs) that influences their social relations and laws.


We shall use Epicurus’ Hedonism and Plato’s role-philosophy to categorize the different philosophies that influence societal formations and laws.


EPICURUS propagated hedonism, which prescribed physical[13] pleasure as the only good[14] for man’s life. This philosophy is informally summarized in a short sentence: let us eat and enjoy today, for tomorrow we shall die. The modern implications of this thought include:

  • It places individual’s physical pleasure and desire as the main purpose for human life
  • It advocates avoidance of pain or ventures that are likely to cause pain
  • It does not consider humans to have a creative purpose or need to overcome existential challenges
  • It does not give priority to duty for common good or society, but to the individuals’ pleasure, which may extend to their loved ones alone
  • Consistent pleasure does not require wide collaboration since few people can enjoy public resources.

Societies founded on the hedonist philosophy will perhaps make laws to protect the access of the privileged to resources for pleasure. Since they may not freely obtain all the resources for pleasure, they require law as justification for using force. Hence, like the latter definitions of law, laws formed from hedonist philosophies will lack emphasis on LEGITIMACY and COMMON GOOD, but increase emphasis on expanse and force. Hedonist philosophy of consumerism throws developing nations into poverty, and developed nations into masked parasitism through foreign policies.


PLATO described his ideal state as a republic with three types of people: administrators, protectors and workers (production).[15] The good for man’s life is fulfilling his specialized role as contribution to the society (common good). The modern implications of this thought include:

  • Each member of the society is seen as a PRODUCTIVE and contributing member of the society
  • Each member of the society has to be trained accordingly, and enabled with resources to fulfil his/her specialized duty to the society
  • Each member of the society has to be motivated and regarded as an integral part of the society for his maximum role and creativity from true convictions
  • The goal of the individual’s life is found in his/her service to the society or common good, not what he can consume from the society

Societies founded on Plato’s role philosophy of productivity will probably make laws to enable, encourage and harmonize the creativity of citizens for peace and progress. Laws formed from role philosophy of productivity will emphasize LEGITIMACY and COMMON GOOD, to encourage willingness in contribution. Role philosophy of productivity brings developing nations closer to development, and developed nations as true models of democracy.


Application of law without clear emphasis on legitimacy and common good may be allowable as:

  • All members of a territory may not have the same level of reasoning. Hence, the smarter ones have to impose laws on others, especially those ones who are considered dull.
  • There are people who may never consent or compromise. Hence, the law has to be imposed on them.
  • No law may perfectly satisfy everybody’s needs and desires in response to common good. Hence, uniform laws must be imposed on them.
  • There may not be enough time to adjust or convince everybody to agree on a common ground. Hence, people do not need to be convinced, they just have to bear the imposition of law on them.
  • Some people are considered stubborn, irredeemably wicked or perpetually irrational and only require force to be cooperative.


On the contrary, the depth of the philosophical definition of law neutralizes any credibility for allowing the application of law without legitimacy and common good.

  • Humans seek happiness for themselves through the means they are convinced, and are not wicked, stubborn or greedy from birth. They learn their behaviours from the prevalent philosophies in their environment, and will freely choose good conducts when convinced of them as means to happiness. Hence, there will not be need for force when people are convinced, and consent to laws and conducts that will bring them happiness.
  • Abiding by the law does not make anybody great, it only makes people moderate. Societies are made great by their ability to contribute greatly from convictions, and not from force or law. Just like human body thrives better on good diet without depending on drugs, societies thrive better on good convictions without depending on force.
  • Constant recourse to external force over internal convictions based on legitimacy and common good supresses initiatives, and creates unnecessary social tensions.
  • Without the insistence on legitimacy and common good, law becomes an instrument of exploitation and subjugation in the hands of unequal people.
  • Insistence on laws without consent could be a testimony of a society’s inability to justify the goodness of the laws. Hence, a suggestion of an intended injustice by the law.
  • Imposition of laws without legitimacy and common good is an adjournment of certain rebellion by a suppressed people. “For an unjust law is no law at all”,[16] and people have a moral duty to oppose such laws.[17]
  • Law can be an instrument for actualizing the philosophical fallacies of appeal to force and authority, in matters for which it is not able to appeal to reason and human dignity.
  • The court and law give judgement, not necessarily justice, which is the establishment of truth.

Specific roles for philosophers in a society

All men are philosophers, who seek and apply wisdom in their interactions. Yet, some people undertake the rigorous discipline to be freed from fallacies and intellectual cobwebs in their quest to become professional philosophers. The roles of a philosopher in the society include:

  • To evaluate social beliefs, laws and influences based on objective principles for a good life.
  • To formulate healthy beliefs and thoughts into understandable and practicable conducts for the society’s wellbeing.
  • To prescribe and propagate the socially beneficial beliefs in the society for good.
  • To advise lawmakers on the implications of the laws they make.


Roles of legal practitioners in a society

Before sentencing Mahatma Gandhi to 6 years in prison, the judge confessed that he was only exercising a duty placed on him by the throne of England. In his disclaimer, he concluded that if the Majesty deems it fit to reduce the years of the term, no one would be happier than he would. Hence, the roles of a legal practitioner (someone who studied and practices law) in the society are:

  • To obtain and dispense laws handed over by whoever is in power.
  • Guide people with the laws he obtains whether they are based on wrong philosophies or not.
  • Strive to align and measure all social conducts based on the law handed down to them.
  • Review laws, and make recommendations for amendment.


Need for more philosophy in legal training and the process of making and executing laws

  • Without philosophical evaluation, law scholars become scholars of status quo whose ability to reason freely is impeded by a desire to defend extant laws.
  • Without sound training to evaluate and understand the philosophies behind laws, law custodians become dispensary robots, who dish out laws without evaluating their effects on the society.
  • Legal adjudication does not require search for objective truths in ethics or morality, but a concordance between human conducts and extant laws, whether just or unjust laws.
  • However, when guided by good philosophy, legal practitioners are able to evaluate and protest against laws that lack legitimacy and common good of the society.


What is the philosophy behind Nigerian laws?

Colonialists formed Nigeria by yoking hundreds of ethnic groups and kingdoms together, without their negotiation or consent. Nigerian laws derive from the Nigerian constitution, which was imposed by the same colonialists, and sustained by favoured politicians. The purpose of the colonial invasion of Africa was mineral resources and control of territories that would serve as markets. Their intention has remained access to resources for their pleasure and compensation of political allies, even at the detriment of the native owners. This emphasis on force and expanse in seizing mineral resources against legitimacy and common good highlights the HEDONISM behind the colonialists and the constitution they imposed on Nigeria.


Nigeria does not have any philosophy, as “Nigerians have never agreed nor been given the chance to agree what Nigeria is.” [18] The different ethnic communities have never agreed on how to collaborate in using what they have to produce what they need for sustenance and security.[19] Instead, using military force, the politicians that replaced colonialists confiscate and export people’s mineral resources in exchange for consumerist finished goods. Hence, Nigerians have been living by the state of nature’s instinct of desperate survival on importation and western conformism. The unofficial hedonism makes many Nigerians to wildly search for resources to obtain and flaunt objects of pleasure as justification of good life; while the laws are sustained by the privileged for protecting their access to resources for more pleasure.


Nigerian ethnic communities had philosophies

An evaluation of several ethnic communities in Nigeria shows elements of Plato’s role philosophy of production. Before the colonial invasion, the Nigerian ethnic communities had organized themselves to contribute to the community according to their talents in administration, security and production. The ethnic communities were mainly communitarian, locally producing and distributing their resources for common good. But with the colonial introduction of consumerism on a militarily sustained amalgamation, productivity became unattractive and unfeasible. Nigerian idle and hungry population keeps increasing since a qualification for shares in government imported consumerism is the population you represent.


Presently, Nigeria does not need more enactment and enforcement of laws, it needs more education on role philosophy of productivity. For without proper education, even the lawmakers and enforcement agents will still default in the porous laws they multiply. “The lower the moral standard of any society, the greater is the need for law and its authoritative enforcement.”[20] But people with a good philosophy (ethical standard) have no need for law, nor is law a problem to them, since they are convinced about the right actions.


Founding a true Nigerian Philosophy through the harmony of Nigerian cultures in a true national conference and consequent local productivity is more important than making more laws.


“Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’ because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.[21]

Thomas Jefferson


[1] Anthony Ufere, The good nurse (Lagos: Sebana books, 2008)

[2] Criminal laws are laws whose violation leads to the penalties of government fine, jail or death. Civil law are used for resolving disputes, harmonizing people’s relationships and extracting compensations for the offenses done by gross negligence, malicious intent or wilful disregard of other people’s rights.

[3] Joseph Omoregbe, Ethics, (Lagos: Joja press, 2004). p7

[4] Chukwunwike Enekwechi, “Philosophical Malnutrition of Nigerian society” In Restartnaija 10th August 2017. retrieved 16th February 2018

[5] Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, edited by Michael Oakeshott (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1962) p70

[6] Chukwunwike Enekwechi, op. cit

[7] Cf. Paul J Glenn, A tour of the Summa of St. Thomas Aquinas (Bangalore: Theological publications, 2007) p.166

[8] Cf. Paul J Glenn, op. cit.

[9] Cf. United States Declaration of Independence,

[10] “Law: Meaning, Nature and Characteristics” in Kullabs retrieved 16th February, 2018

[11] Cf. Joseph Omoregbe, Social-Political philosophy and international relations (Lagos: Joja press, 2007)

[12] Cf. Chukwunwike Enekwechi, role of military…

[13] By physical pleasure, he meant pleasures derived from “taste, touch, hearing, sight smell” … Derek Johnston, A brief history of philosophy (London: MPG Books Ltd, 2006) p.46

[14] Derek Johnston, A brief history of philosophy (London: MPG Books Ltd, 2006) p.43, 46

[15] Derek Johnston, op. cit. p22

[16] St. Augustine, Quoted In the memorial analysis of Martin Luther King Junior, in An Unjust Law Is No Law At All: Excerpts from “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”, January 20, 2014. Retrieved 19th February, 2018

[17] Cf. Joseph Omoregbe, Ethics, 6

[18] cf. Richard Dowden, Africa altered states, ordinary miracles. (New York: Public Affairs, 2010). p.445

[19] Cf. Ogban Ogban-Iyan, Re-inventing Nigeria through Pre-colonial traditions, in Issues in contemporary political economy of Nigeria, (ed.) Hassan A. Saliu. (Ilorin, Sally & Associates, 1999). P77

[20] Joseph Omoregbe, Ethics, op cit. 7