What Is Law?


Law is the set of rules that a society or government develops and enforces to deal with crime, business agreements, social relationships and other issues. It can also be used to refer to the professions of lawyers and judges who work within these systems.

Many different theories of Law exist. One approach, known as The Rule of Law, argues that laws should be epistemically accessible; that is, they must be a relatively stable set of norms available as public knowledge. This involves publicizing laws in advance, and requires that they be clear and unambiguous, so people can learn about them and internalize them. It also requires that laws be enforceable by the state, and that judicial institutions are transparent, accountable, and free from taints of corruption or partiality.

Another approach, often referred to as the “Ethical Theory of Law,” seeks to link laws to moral values. This argues that the more stable and clear the law is, the more ethical it will be. This focuses on the moral importance of not breaking promises, and it emphasizes a hierarchy of rights such as property and privacy, which are protected by the law.

The idea that laws should reflect the common good is also a key tenet of this approach. This argues that the law should be developed by a wide range of stakeholders, including representatives of the public and private sectors. It also calls for a system of checks and balances in which the power to make laws is shared between those who are affected by them, so that no individual or group dominates the process.

In practice, the law does not fit neatly into any of these categories. It is a complex system that is constantly evolving, and it is important to distinguish between the various branches of it. For example, criminal law deals with the punishment of behavior deemed to be against the social order, while civil law is the resolution of lawsuits between individuals or groups.

Law is a product of political action, and the political landscape is vastly different from nation to nation. In some places, the law is dominated by those who are in control of the military or other sources of political power; in others, popular movements can challenge existing political-legal authority.

Moreover, the law is a complex social construct, and its meanings are continually debated. For example, there is a lively debate about whether judging is too influenced by the interests of those who appear in court (the’stuffy white men’ thesis); or whether judges should be allowed to use their own judgment in interpreting new situations, rather than simply apply established rules or make strained analogies with precedent. Those debates, and the broader debate about the nature of Law, are essential to understanding how it works in any given culture.