by Nicholas Rescher
It would be unproblematically correct to say "the laws of Pennsylvania have
it that a person is eligible to vote at age eighteen." But whether someone is
actually mature enough to exercise his electoral franchise appropriately will very
much depend on the individual. In setting the voting age by fiat, Society leaps in
where Nature fears to tread.
Many quantities that figure importantly in shaping our conduct of affairs are
not specified by nature but are artifacts of human contrivance. At what age, for
example, is a person old enough to marry, drink alcoholic beverages responsibly,
handle fireworks safely, manage his own property, enter into contracts, see a violent
movie, serve on a jury, or hold a public office? These are not quantities writ large in
nature's impersonal scheme of things but matters of social decision made for reasons
of public polity and administrative convenience. They are legislated quantities.