Positivist Legal Theory
by Mohsen al Attar
In contrast to natural law theorists, legal positivists assert that laws are merely a compendium of rules designed by a sovereign (usually the state) for the regulation of society. It is NOT, they suggest, a universal moral code to which we must submit. In fact, laws retain their validity irrespective of their perceived (im)morality, so long as it is properly made (pedigree) by the recognised law-making authority. People do not obey the law because they feel morally inclined to do so, rather because they respect the legitimacy of the law-making body and fear that the state’s coercive forces (police, prosecutors, etc.) will punish them if they do not.
If this is so, how do we distinguish between good law and bad law? Must we obey all laws simply because the state tells us to? What if the law calls for behaviour that we consider immoral? How do we reconcile our legal duty with our moral preferences?