IdleTheory Law and Justice


Human society is a cooperative enterprise whose goal is the increase of human idleness, and the maintenance of a social equality of idleness. The manufacture, trade, and use of tools is the primary way in which human societies increase idleness. But apart from its economic transactions, there are other social interactions which have effects on the idleness of members of a society.

Offences of one sort or other are actions by persons which result in a loss to other persons of idleness or idle time. The theft of a person's tools or other possessions results in a loss to them of the idle time which is the value of these tools. Similarly the damage or destruction of their personal possessions, property, or person results in loss of idle time. The obstruction or detention of a person results in loss of idle time.

Offences are any actions whatsoever whose effect is to reduce the idleness of other persons. For greater clarification, a society may publish a list of proscribed offences - such as theft, assault, murder, vandalism, fraud, trespass, nuisance -, but these are simply particular instances of the general class of Offence.

Offence Effects of the offence
Theft The theft of useful tools from someone results in decreased idleness for that person, as they no longer gain the value of those tools. Useful tools include clothing, shelter, medicines.
Assault Assault that causes pain for some period of time prevents the enjoyment of idle time for that period, and thus reduces idleness. Assault which results in damage to a person may reduce their ability to work, and increase the time they take to perform work. Where such damage is permanent, the result is a permanent decrease in idleness.
Murder Since death corresponds to zero idleness, the killing of a person may be regarded as an act which reduces their idleness permanently to zero.

But no list of proscribed offences - laws - can ever hope to contain all possible actual offences. Whether or not an offence is listed among the laws of a society, if a person can prove that some action by another person has resulted in loss to them, they have a case against that person.

Actions of which other persons disapprove, but which cause them no loss of time, do not fall under any category of Offence. For example, if it is customary for people to wear clothes, then public nudity may cause outrage. Or if it is customary for persons to engage in sexual activity in private, then public sex may cause outrage. But in neither of these examples does the activity result in any decrease in idleness - and such actions ought not to be prohibited by law.

Offences are performed by one or more persons - the offenders - against one or more other persons - the offended -. The offenders may dispute whether they have in fact caused offence. Where offence has been caused, the offenders and the offended may come to some mutual agreement. But where agreement is not reached, and the dispute is of sufficient importance, society may appoint a magistrate to inquire into the dispute and dispense impartial justice.


Where some individual has carried out an offence, the principle of justice must be that of restitution. Assuming that a society maintains strict equality, actions which disturb that perfect equality require compensation which restores equality.

Justice is not about punishment or retribution. If some person acts in some way to damage other persons - where damage always means some reduction of idleness, some loss of idle time - then if the malefactor is punished by being beaten, mutilated, imprisoned, or executed, then damage is only multiplied. If one person blinds another, this damage results in life becoming difficult for the blind man. But if, in retribution, the malefactor is himself blinded, then society now has two blind people. If such retribution is made with every offence, then if one man burns down the house of another, then his own house should be burned down. Or if he breaks his tools, then his tools should be broken. Such retributive "justice" can only result in a society in which substantial numbers of people are blind, homeless, and without tools. And such a society is one in which social idleness is low. Retribution damages society, and makes a bad situation worse. The logic of retribution is such that if a hole is knocked in one side of a boat, then an equal and equivalent hole should be knocked in the other side.

Behind the desire to punish malefactors is the supposition that malefactors are in fact malevolent - that they are free moral agents who have freely and knowingly chosen to do harm -, and that in punishing them no damage is done to society. There is, in short, an assumption that human life is idle life, and that all actions are consequently freely chosen, and that punishment deprives a person of his pre-existing freedom. Such an approach has no place in Idle Theory, because Idle Theory is founded on the premise that human life is not perfectly idle, and that men are not free agents, but at best part-time free agents, and the primary goal of human society is the attainment, as far as possible, of perfect freedom or idleness. And since men are not perfectly free moral agents, then it is not possible to determine whether their actions have been freely chosen, or driven by necessity. In short, moral culpability depends upon idleness. Perfectly idle persons are fully morally culpable for all their actions, but completely busy persons have no moral culpability, because they can never act according to personal inclination or desire.

Justice is not about judging the character of men, of attempting to ascertain whether they are malevolent or benevolent, and punishing them or rewarding them accordingly - because such judgements of character cannot be made. Justice can only be about repairing damage, restoring lost equality, making restitution.

Thus where a thief takes someone else's tool for his own use, and is discovered, what is required is restitution, not punishment. The thief should give back what he stole, and in addition, should compensate the owner for the time he lost while he was without the tool. The thief should either return the tool, or give the owner another tool of equivalent value, or pay over money to that value, or perform work of that value. What was taken should be given back, in one way or other.

What applies to theft applies to all other offences. An offence is caused when some person costs another person some time. Personal injury, vandalism, theft, fraud, and the like all cost the injured party time, and this lost time should be restored,

The only difficulty arises where restitution is impossible. If a man kills another man, restitution is impossible. Or where a man starts a fire which causes so much damage that he will never be able, even working all the days of his life, to compensate the damage he has caused, complete restitution is impossible. Or where a man causes damage to another, but the latter dies before compensation is called for, then compensation is impossible. In these cases, justice cannot be done. In the case of a killing, those dependent upon the dead man, or society itself, may require that compensation be paid to them. In the case of the fire, the malefactor may be required to work the rest of his days to make good as much he is able, and society must bear the remainder of the loss.

In all these cases, the role of a magistrate is to determine, as best he is able, who caused what amount of damage to whom, and to require that compensation be paid. Since the magistrate himself, and his officers, have also been caused trouble, the costs of administering justice may also be added. The result, for any malefactor, is that he will always pay more for his actions than he gained by them. The thief who takes a tool for his own use gains at most the value inherent in the tool. But when apprehended, he must not only compensate the owner for the loss of this value, but also compensate society for the work that it performed to hunt him down, to try him, and to oversee his repayment.

The only circumstance where a magistrate may consider imprisoning or executing a malefactor is where his behaviour is such that the magistrate believes that he will offend again, and that he is a liability to society, and should be expelled from society. Here exile is one option. Imprisonment, where a prison is no different from any other society, except that it is closed off from the rest of society, may be another. Execution is the last resort. Exile, imprisonment, or execution are not intended as punishments of a malefactor, but simply various ways in which a society rids itself of persons who menace society, or are believed to menace society. All that matters here is the cost of expulsion.

Idle Theory

Author: Chris Davis
Last edited: 2 Oct 1998