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Aristotle on judges.

I have just completed reading Judicial Activism: A threat to democracy and religion (Toronto, Life Ethics Information Centre).

What a powerful confirmation in our day of what the celebrated philosopher of antiquity had written so many centuries ago!

Aristotle, whom Dante acclaimed "the master of those who know," in the first chapter of his Rhetoric stated what he considered to be the role of judges:

"... the judge must surely refuse to take his instructions from the litigants: he must decide for himself all such points as the lawgiver has not already defined for him.

"Now, it is of great moment that well-drawn laws should themselves define all the points they possibly can and leave as few as may be to the decision of the judges; and this for several reasons.... The weightiest reason of all is that the decision of the lawgiver is not particular but prospective and general, whereas members of the assembly and the jury find it their duty to decide on definite cases brought before them. They will often have allowed themselves to be so much influenced by feelings of friendship or hatred or self-interest that they lose any clear vision of the truth and have their judgment obscured by considerations of personal pleasure or pain.

"In general, then, the judge should, we say, be allowed to decide as few things as possible. But questions as to whether something has happened or has not happened, will be or will not be, is or is not, must of necessity be left to the judge, since the law-giver cannot foresee them."

Aristotle was also of the opinion that it is wrong to prevent a judge by playing on his emotions--"one might as well warp a carpenter's rule before using it."

In Canada, the confusion between the lawgiver and the judge is almost complete. In reading the book, I could not but recall what Aristotle had written and I thought I should pass it on.

St. Peter's Bay, P.E.I.
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Author:MacInnis, Patrick
Publication:Catholic Insight
Article Type:Letter to the editor
Date:Mar 1, 2006
Previous Article:'A subservient laity'.
Next Article:Politicians and communion.

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