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A license, as it applies to a professional license, drivers license, marriage license, software license is similar to the concept of a certificate, in that the purpose of such a thing is to have a great value placed on a legal concept by the licensee (the person receiving the license) so that the party issuing the license can have some control over the licensee, in that they may revoke the license and in so doing damage the reputation of the licensee in a clean and drama free manor.

This appears to be similar to the concept of a certificate in an internet blocking proxy, though that is more of a concrete means of doing so, in that if the Certificate Authority revokes the certificate of a given client, it will no longer receive internet access.

It seems to me licenses come into play in areas where the party issuing the license may have no other means for having power over an individual licensee, and especially in places where it really matters to have power over a licensee, for instance a doctor may lose their medical license if it is determined that some foul play was involved in the treatment of a now deceased or otherwise disabled patient.

The deterrent here to the licensee is that they worked so hard, or paid so much money to get the license in the first place, and if the license is taken away they will no longer reap its benefits, to practice medicine, to drive a car, to be married, to receive security updates to software, and thus be vulnerable to something...the law, or the inability to receive security updates, should the issuing party revoke their certificate.

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The legal effect of a licence is that the state has decided (through political processes) that there are some things that present such a hazard (physically, financially or otherwise) to the public that they should only be permitted to be done by people who have demonstrated to, and been certified by the state, that they are capable of doing those things safely.

Driver's licences are pretty ubiquitous examples. Similarly some professions are licensed, particularly doctors, lawyers and engineers. It is also not uncommon to licence financial planners and stock brokers. Trades are often licenced, particularly plumbers, gasfitters and electricians.

A licence demonstrates:

  • this is a task that requires skill and judgement,
  • this person has such skill and judgement.
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    Licenses for other things are offered that don't appear to do what you have listed. Such a license might be a marriage license. – Matt Sep 2 '17 at 14:00
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    The problem lies in "skills and judgment", versus "qualifications", which also encompasses licenses for dogs, cars and guns. – user6726 Sep 2 '17 at 14:33

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