Software Nerd

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Magna Carta

The Magna Carta (1215 A.D.) lists what one might call "procedural rights" or "concrete rights" [see this thread on for a discussion of such rights]. Basically, these are implementations, i.e. concrete forms of, the rights to life.

The Magna Carta is a good illustration of the development of knowledge. In it, we do not see an abstract declaration of the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. (Indeed, I would guess that many of the lords, churchmen and merchants who were asking for some rights would have said that peasants are far less deserving of rights than they.)

Instead of abstract principles, the Magna Carta is mostly a list of specific "procedural rights" (someone give me a better term). It makes sense that people in that far away age would start by groping for some specific rights, e.g. the right to cut down part of a forest to grow food on the land, before reaching the broader principle. It took a few centuries during which people enumerated various such rights before they could grasp the more abstract idea of the "right to life" and its applicability to all human beings.

For anyone who's interested, here's my summary of the rights listed in the Magna Carta:

  1. King to have less control of Church.
  2. "Free men" to have certain rights.
  3. Heirs have a right to their father's land
  4. A debtor's land may not be seized if he chooses to pay his debt from other assets
  5. Certain types of taxes restricted
  6. Special "independence" for the City of London
  7. Ordinary law-suits will be settled in a fixed place, instead of moving around with the royal court
  8. Other "roaming" courts established, to handle cases is some areas
  9. Fines should be reasonable, and part of the test should be that the fine does not deprive the person of their source of livelihood
  10. Constables & royal officials must pay for corn they take and must get an owner's consent before taking certain items.
  11. Standards laid down for weights and measures
  12. A person's confession alone is not sufficient basis to try him
  13. In peacetime, merchants may freely enter and leave England without being taxed unduly
  14. New forests created during King John's reign will be deforested


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