Philosophical and ethical defences of the rule of law tend to conflate three distinct goods that can emerge from it: the goods of subjects being able to comply with the law, of subjects being able to rely on the law in their decision-making, and of subjects being empowered by the law to pursue autonomous life plans. I show how these goods are conceptually and practically distinct, and I demonstrate how each depends not only on the law’s formal properties, but also upon specific parts of its substantive content (including property and basic security rights). By arguing that substantive content intrinsically matters to the rule of law, I challenge a major argument for ‘thin’ conceptions of the rule of law, which claim the rule of law applies only to law’s formal qualities, rather than to its specific substantive content.


Hugh Breakey

(Griffith University)

Dr Hugh Breakey is a Senior Research Fellow in moral philosophy at Griffith University’s Institute for Ethics, Governance & Law. His research spans political theory, normative ethics, governance studies and applied philosophy, exploring the ethical challenges in such diverse fields as peacekeeping, argument, institutional governance, climate change, sustainable tourism, private property, professional ethics and international law. He is President of the Australian Association of Professional and Applied Ethics.