I'm not too proud to beg

Alright, so usually, I record any funny expression or vocabulary that is new to me, in a notebook, research its origins and then refer to it again when I hear it used to try to divine the way native users use the expression. Then I try it out myself and record my level of success due to a highly scientific set of guidelines I’ve developed over the years.

But every once in a while comes an expression that just whips me silly and I can never quite manage it. For about 2 years now, I’ve been wondering what the “rule of right” refers to and I don’t think I’ve ever gotten it right.

Is it Darwinistic principles, that the strongest survive? Is it the rule of what is considered right, virtuous and good? Is it something to do with the old cosmic laws about how the king was ordained and there was a set of beings lower and lower than him in succession? Is some sort of pithy comment about the dominance of right-handed versus left-handed people?

What on our verdant green planet does this refer to?

Please, somebody demystify this for poor, lost Kitsune. :(


It’s not a standard expression that I’m aware of. Context please? Do you remember the original sentence where you first heard it?

Since english are a foreign language to me, I also wanted a definition. This is what I got from google:

According to the Frederician code, justice consists simply in letting every one enjoy the rights which he has acquired in virtue of the laws. And as this definition includes all the other rules of right, there is properly but one single general rule of right, namely, Give every one his own.

I always thought that it was the “divine right of rule”, like kings, priests etc etc.

The term “rule of right” isn’t used very much. It’s a term that has to do with the basis of justice-- that the “rule of right” should prevail over the “rule of wrong”. Think of “rule” in terms of how a king rules rather than in terms of the rules of a game.

Although I’ve never heard the expression before, the concept contained in Pjerrot’s definition is one I’m familiar with. What is says is that justice is just full enforcement of the laws without exception. Thus, under the “rule of right,” the person who steals bread to feed his family or steals medicine for his dying mother should be punished, because he has no right to do those things under the law, and the philosophy of the “rule of right” does not recognize any justice or fairness external to the law. I’ve seen the theory lots of times, but never heard it called “the rule of right” (although that name makes perfect sense).

I haven’t heard the phrase in English but the German equivalent (“Rechtsstaat”) means a state where publically known laws are impartially applied, as opposed to a state where you are subject to arbitrary whims of your overlords.

Edit: The more common English expression is “rule of law”, isn’t it? I’m assuming they refer to the same principle.

As others have pointed out, this is not common usage in colloquial English. It appears to be a term of art in legal and moral philosophy, see for example:

http://www.wordiq.com/dictionary/Justice.html (usage in middle of page)

http://www.iep.utm.edu/s/synderes.htm (usage in 4th paragraph)

http://www.libertyhaven.com/theoreticalorphilosophicalissues/philosophy/naturallaw.html (usage in middle of page)

http://www.angelfire.com/md2/timewarp/bentham.html (allusion in middle of page)

I couldn’t quickly find an actual definition of “rule of right” anywhere, however, but perhaps it can be found in a legal dictionary or legal encyclopedia.

I assume its a play on “rule of might”… or “might makes right”.

Seen in that light, “rule of right” is about rule of what is right over rule by strength. In actual context “rule of right” often has to do with laws (rule by law), although theoretically it wouldn’t have to do with law at all.

It’s just a rare form of “rule of law”, like Christopher suggests. I’ve run into a couple of times, but for the life of me I can’t remember where.

IIRC, it differs from rule of law, though, in that it emphasizes that the laws themselves must be “right”. You could have rule of law in a society of unjust laws, I suppose. “Rule of right” tries to lift human law to some greater idea of justice. But this “right” must be enforced equally on all. Kind of a categorical imperative thing; no law is right if you wouldn’t want to impose it on everyone.

Miramon’s links do a good job of putting the phrase in context.


The concept of “rule of right” clearly has to do with ethics, not mere legalism. Most of the usages I found seem to assume that there is a universal definition of “rightness” (or of “the good”), or if you prefer, that there is an absolute ethical standard out there someplace.

Based on that assumption, which was once nearly universally accepted, but which is now debateable, any moral legalist would naturally attempt to enact and enforce laws which codify the one ethical system of “right” behavior.

I think the above is pretty clear. Below is more speculative:

I would suppose that the “rule of right” would be a guiding principle for jurisprudence: namely that real law and case law should enforce the universal ethic, and that legal decisions should be able to appeal from the letter of the law to a higher moral criterion.

If that is a correct supposition, then it would be legitimate to object to the enforcement of a law on the grounds that it was not right. Of course, this is not actually a tenable defense, at least in the western legal tradition. Presumably the justification for barring this kind of objection is that although there may be a universal ethic, decisions as to the rightness of a law are subjective and are outside the ambit of a judge’s competence.

As an aside, it is interesting to note that the “golden rule” is in effect the opposite of an ethical system. It suggests that behavior cannot be codified, and that personal action should be dictated on a varying subjective scale, not according to a universal standard.

No wonder I had such a hard time figuring this out! Thanks for all the help, everyone! Really appreciated!

Anaxagoras, I can’t remember the original source for it (I wasn’t that detailed with my notes back then) but it finally aggravated me to the max when I was talking to someone in English about Fire Emblem and they mentioned the rule of right.

“Wait, so you know what the rule of right means?”


“The rule of right! You mentioned the rule of right!”

“Err, no.”

“Yes you did, I heard you!”

“That’s not what I meant, I’m not actually sure exactly what it means.”

“Then why did you say it?”

shrugs “Doesn’t everyone use terms and expressions they don’t understand well sometimes?”

“Then what do you think it means? You must have learned it from somewhere!”

“Err, the right to rule?”

“But you don’t know for sure, or you’re not reasonably sure?”

“Nah. I mean yeah. I mean, what?”


Now that I think about it, I wonder where he got it from.


Gasp! Someone has sown the eyes and mouth of your emoticon shut! The fiend!