The issue of the proper function(s) of government is at once an ethical and a practical question. A government or a political system, we shall find, is a complex structure with its own internal dynamics. Hence we cannot simply assign a desired ethical goal to a government and assume that it will automatically function as a unit in pursuit of that goal. The ethical goal(s) of government, like all ethical goals (cf. pp. 3.12:1-4), must ultimately be interpreted in terms of individual action. Assuming that an individualsuch as a voter, a legislator, or a dictatorhas some degree of control over the apparatus of government, then toward what ends (if any) should he or she act to cause that apparatus to be used?
Because a government is a functional entity created by human beings, we begin by examining the function that explains its historical existence, that is, the function served by governments that has enabled them to arise and survive historically. The essential distinguishing characteristic of government, included in the concept's definition, can be expected to specify or strongly imply this function (cf. p. 1.4:25). We shall then examine the chief functions and purposes to which the institution of government has been applied in modern times.