What Is Law?

Law is the body of rules, doctrines, and practices that govern the operation of political communities. In modern times, the most important of these communities are nation-states, though many other types of legal systems have been developed.

In a nation, the law can be used to keep the peace, maintain the status quo, preserve individual rights, protect minorities against majorities, promote social justice, and provide for orderly social change. Different legal systems may serve these purposes better than others, and the legal system that is most effective in each particular context will vary from country to country.

Typical forms of the law are rules, statutes, ordinances, and regulations. These rules are usually formulated and enforced by the government, although some are created by voluntary agreements between the people who make up the community.

When someone violates a rule, it can have a negative effect on the person and their family members. For example, if you speed on the road and someone catches you, they may fine you and take your car away from you.

It can also affect you if a person violates a law that prohibits discrimination, such as when you are prevented from receiving certain services or products because of your race or religion. These laws can be very difficult to challenge, and some people may not be able to defend themselves against them.

The law can also be a source of power and privilege for people. For instance, parliament can enact a law that binds citizens and prosecutors can prosecute defendants in court. Similarly, in private law, owning property typically includes the power to gift or bequeath title to others; estate law empowers you to create wills; contract law provides you with the ability to enter into contractual obligations; and agency law gives you the power to appoint others to act on your behalf in the course of legal disputes.

One of the most common ways that law is defined is by its “right-content” (Raz 1994: 269-268; Wellman 1995: 25-29). Right-content is generally a set of definite claims, privileges, powers, or immunities affecting the lives of people, and can manifest as either rights in personam or in rem.

A right in personam is a right that designates a specific and definite right-object, such as a promisor, a trustee, or a tortfeasor. It can also designate a person as the holder of a right in rem, such as when a decedent’s heirs have a right to an estate’s assets after all debts and claims are satisfied.

In most jurisdictions, the content of a right is not always clear or underdetermined; at other times, the duties correlating to a right are conditioned on a state of affairs so that the duty only vests once a factual condition has been met.

As a result, it is not uncommon for people to be skeptical of “rights” as reasons to ph. This is particularly true when one’s approach to morality relies on consequentialist considerations of utility, public policy, or the common good (Dworkin 1977: 190-192; Lyons 1982: 113-118).