Volume 33, 1998
Philosophy of Law
A Philosophical Perspective on the Regulation of Business
The paper compares the Anglo-American and continental legal systems in parallel with a comparison of the philosophical foundations for each. The defining philosophical distinction between the two legal traditions (viz., the Anglo-American system is predicated on idealism and the continental system on materialism) is shown to influence the way in which criminal justice is handled by the two systems as applied to citizens, and how this influence is carried across to the regulation of business as applied to corporations. The idealistic (possibly theological) worldview inherent in the Anglo-American legal system explains its moral presumptions regarding human freedom, dignity, and responsibility, while the materialist worldview inherent in the continental legal systems explains its amoral assumptions about human motivations and behavior. I suggest that while the Anglo-American legal system may be justified in its moral philosophical presumptions as applied to citizens, the continental legal system, with its amoral assumptions, more accurately reflects corporations than citizens. Understanding how the philosophy behind the two legal systems influences the application of law in modern society can lead to improvements in public policy.