What Is Law?


Law is a system of rules that governs the actions of individuals and communities. Whether the laws are made by a state, a private society or by the people themselves, they often serve to keep the peace, maintain the status quo, preserve individual rights, protect minorities against majorities, promote social justice, and provide for orderly social change.

A primarily legislative system, but one that leaves room for the courts to interpret and creatively apply the rules to changing social needs and interests. It is based on clear expressions of rights and duties, and on the principles of equity and general principles.

Legal justification is a matter of normativity, not validity (Raz 1970; MacCormick 1977; Raz 1994). Sometimes rights justify correlative duties (see Feinberg 1969; 1979; 1990; Kramer 1998; Sumner 1987).

Normative power refers to the capacity to alter an aspect of the normative landscape; it does not, however, mean that the parties to the normative interaction are able to alter the same aspects of the normative landscape as each other.

Claims, privileges and powers are first-order norms; immunities are second-order norms.

Hohfeldian theory of rights argues that some Hohfeldian positions are active while others are passive (Lyons 1970; Sumner 1987).

While the claim-right is most widely associated with the Hohfeldian concept of right, other Hohfeldian norms such as privileges and powers can also be considered as rights in their strictest sense. Some argue that the direction of the justification–from duty to right–can, in principle, run in reverse: that is, from right to duty (Raz 1970; 1986). While some have argued that such an argument is not valid, it is certainly worth exploring whether it is.

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