Understanding the Basics of Law


Law is the study of the system of rules that a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members. Oxford Reference provides more than 34,000 concise definitions and in-depth, specialist encyclopedic entries across this broad discipline, including the major terms, concepts, processes, and organization of legal systems in the UK, US, and Australia.

The Will (or Choice) Theory of Rights

According to the Will (or Choice) Theory, rights function to make right-holders small-scale sovereigns over a limited range of domains and, in the process, provide them with normative control over themselves and others. This control is a significant part of the moral legitimacy of rights and enables right-holders to choose among various ways of implementing their legal duties to others and to exercise their powers in various domains.

The Hohfeldian Positions of Claims, Privileges, Powers, and Immunities

There are four Hohfeldian positions that are most often cited by scholars of law: claim-rights, privilege-rights, power-rights, and immunities. These positions determine what ph-holders may do with respect to some ph, what ph-objects are owed to ph, and what ph-objects are protected by a claim-right or a privilege-right from doing certain things with regard to ph.

Claim-rights and immunity-rights are active (Raz 1970: 177-178; MacCormick 1977: 193-194) while power-rights and privilege-rights are passive. Both kinds of rights are, however, differentiated from one another in the sense that claim-rights and immunity-rights are based on the correlative duty of the right-object to the right-subject to ph while power-rights and privilege-rights derive from the right-subject’s correlative duty to the right-object to ph (Kamm 2002: 476; Sumner 1987: 29-30).

In general, Hohfeldian rights are divided into three categories: claim-rights, privilege-rights, and power-rights. In each case, a legal right can be determined either by assessing its stringency (which involves a matter of legal doctrine) or by weighing it against other considerations such as expediency and institutional considerations.

Depending on the degree of stringency and weight, legal rights vary in importance to society. Some rights are more important than others; for example, civil and human rights are typically more stringent than property or criminal rights.

The weight of a right is a matter of legal doctrine, as well as judicial practice and political and constitutional theory. Generally, the most stringent rights are those that the law deems “fundamental” or “core”, or protective of particularly significant interests and values.

These include, in turn, the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness (civil rights) and to a free education (human rights). Other less stringent rights also have significant impact on societies:, for example, rights to food, water, shelter, and health, and, more generally, the freedom from coercion and violence.

The balancing of these three factors is what explains how some legal rights are more significant than others, and how different types of legal rights may seem to conflict with each other. For example, the rights to freedom and equality, arguably the most important of all the rights in the law, often appear to conflict with each other.