What Is Law?


Law is the set of rules a nation recognizes as regulating its people and places. It can be broken in a variety of ways and affects everyone from convicted criminals to business contracts. Its purpose is to keep the peace, maintain the status quo, resolve disputes, and protect liberties and rights. It can also serve to promote social justice, and it can provide an orderly process for societal change. Many nations have different legal systems, but the most common ones include civil law and common law.

Civil law is a comprehensive, codified set of laws that legislators create. It clearly defines cases that can be brought to court, how courts will evaluate those claims, and what punishments might be given for offenses. Its goal is to reduce biased systems in which laws are applied differently from case to case. Countries with a civil law system usually have a judiciary system that is separate from the legislative one.

Common law, on the other hand, is a set of unwritten laws that is established through judicial precedents and public juries. Its influence is so great that even when past decisions are deemed unfair or biased, they continue to shape future rulings until societal changes prompt a judicial body to overturn those laws.

A law may be created by a legislative body, such as a legislature in a state or parliament in a country. It can also be created by a judicial body, such as a judge in a court of law or by a jury in a trial. It can also be created by a public organization, such as a non-profit or corporation.

In a civil system, laws are often written as statutes, which are legal codes that lay out the conditions for bringing cases to court and the procedures that judges will follow when evaluating those cases. The United States has a system of statutes called the U.S. Statutes at Large, which is published after each congressional session. It is possible to search for federal laws by name, keyword, Congress session, or type of law.

Some philosophers of law have argued that privileges do not qualify as true legal rights because they can only be enforced against others who interfere with them. However, the Interest Theory of rights argues that, broadly speaking, legal rights protect or further their claim-holders’ interests, making them “small-scale sovereign[s]” over certain domains. It is this notion of interests that fits well with Hohfeldian privileges, and it can explain how standalone privileges like the right to ph could still be considered valid rights (MacCormick 1977: 189).