Hammurabi's Code raises a number of important points about the role of law in society. As the oldest recorded set of laws we've discovered, understanding the depth and breadth of these laws is essential to understanding the concept of law in general. However, there are a few points that need to be highlighted from today's discussion.
First of all, it is necessary to highlight that the concept of justice is an ever evolving, fluid process-it constantly changes. From society to society throughout history, the basic "truths" behind what is and is not considered just change dramatically. As seen through Hammurabi's code, there were some clear values implied in the presence of certain laws. First among these was the concept of fear within the population-clearly, Hammurabi set up some significant punishments for violations of the law as a deterrent to those who may consider breaking the code. The concept of deterrence will be a continual theme in the creation of a legal system throughout history.
Moreso than that, Hammurabi's code demonstrates a high value placed on efficiency. Remember, much of the purpose for writing the legal code down was to establish certain rules that would be followed by all people at all times, and prevent individual disputes arising from the presence of a variety of different codes. Clearly, the Ancient Babylonians valued the idea of an efficient government system that provides for a unified understanding of the rules.
Finally, its important to highlight the presence of class differences in the Babylonian society, of which Hammurabi's Code takes account. The code attempts to rectify class differences by penalizing different classes only that which they can afford. Much like our current tax system, Hammurabi's Code is an attempt by the government to place people on an even plain. (Unfortunately, unlike our tax system today where people claim that "the government takes an arm and a leg," Hammurabi's code actually took an arm and a leg).
So overall, the origins of law as seen through Hammurabi's Code exemplify the values present in that society, and set history forth in an attempt to continually re-evaluate and update those values. However, the question that remains throughout history (and throughout this unit) is this: Do the collective morals of a society come from the written laws, or do the written laws merely reflect the collective morals of the society?