What Is Law?


Law is a system of rules that a society or government develops in order to deal with crime, business agreements, and social relationships. The term is also used to refer to the people who work in this system.

The biblical word torah, which is translated as “law,” usually refers to the Old Testament Scriptures that were given to Moses on Mount Sinai (cf. Matt. 5:17; 22:40; Luke 16:16). But it is often taken in a narrower sense, referring specifically to the commandments and prescriptions that form the basis of the Mosaic law. This is exemplified in the phrase of the Bible that says “he who heareth the commandments of God, and doeth them, he shall live by them” (Josh. 24:28).

Several different views on the nature and function of law are possible, as is the case with rights themselves. Some theorists have focused on the notion of natural law, which is based on a set of principles derived from right reason and a view of man’s nature and constitution. These principles include the notions of justice, equality, freedom and property, and a respect for persons.

These natural laws are often contrasted with positive law, which is created by legislative and judicial decisions. These positive laws are often based on a variety of factors, including a desire to promote economic growth and development, to maintain social stability, and to protect human rights.

Legal philosophers have considered several mechanisms by which a person can acquire or lose a legal right. Typically, a legal right’s validity depends on its justification, which is the normative grounding of a legal right in other legal norms. For example, a legal right to a house might be justified as a public duty that the state is obliged to enforce.

Other theorists have argued that a legal right is only valid if it has a correlative duty owed to it by another party. Joel Feinberg and Stephen Darwall are among the most prominent defenders of this third theory of legal rights, sometimes called the demand theory of rights.

A rule of law is a condition of governance in which the government and private entities, both public and private, are accountable to laws that are clear, publicly promulgated, stable, and evenly enforced, and in which human rights and property rights are guaranteed. A strong rule of law involves measures to ensure adherence to the universal principles of supremacy of the law, equal and non-discriminatory treatment before the law, transparency, accountability in the administration of justice, and participation by citizens in the process of establishing and enforcing the law. It also includes guarantees that the processes by which the law is adopted, administered, adjudicated, and enforced are accessible, fair, and independent. It requires respect for internationally accepted standards and norms, and aims at the protection of the vulnerable and disadvantaged. It entails restraining corruption, preventing radicalization and violence, and combating climate change. It is essential for achieving international peace and security, promoting sustainable development, and building people-centered societies.