The Law is the set of rules that are created and enforceable by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It has been variously described as a science and as the art of justice.
The word ‘law’ can be used to describe all sorts of rules – from laws about traffic or tax breaks to the rights of prisoners and the punishments for crimes. It can also refer to the system of courts in which these rules are used, or the professions that deal with advising people about the law or representing them in court or giving decisions and imposing penalties.
One of the most common uses of the term is for the system of law and order that allows societies to function in a relatively stable way. The idea is that, if everyone obeys the laws and tries to be fair in their dealings with others, then businesses can trade and people’s lives can go on in a reasonably organized manner.
A variety of goals are achieved by the law, including ensuring that people’s property is protected, providing a mechanism to resolve disputes about ownership and protecting individual liberty. But the law can also promote more general goals, such as preventing war or terrorism. These goals are often reflected in the aims of particular legal systems, for example, British law focuses on maintaining peace and order. Canadian law, in contrast, seeks to respect the rights of individuals and ensure that society is safe and fair.
It is common for lawyers and other professionals to have careers that focus on the study of law or on advising people about their legal rights and obligations. This kind of career is becoming increasingly attractive to young people, and it is important for people who work in these areas to understand the value of the rule of law in society.
Law is a very complicated area of inquiry. There are many different kinds of rules, and there is constant debate about what they mean. There is, for instance, ongoing controversy about the idea of the Rule of Law, an ideal that combines formal and procedural aspects of a legal system with certain substantive conceptions of justice. The Rule of Law requires that laws be public, and that they be promulgated before people are held responsible for complying with them. It also demands that laws be coherent, clear and stable.
Moreover, it is not possible to fully appreciate the value of law until we understand the role of the human element in generating the rules that govern us. This is why there is incessant debate about whether or not laws are moral, and the nature of that morality.
Some philosophers (like Fuller in 1964) have formulated principles of what they call the “inner morality of law” – eight formal principles that require that laws be general, public, prospective, intelligible, coherent, clear and stable: a morality of the inner law. More recent legal pragmatists have argued that these formal principles can be reduced to the notion of “fair play” – a set of guidelines that encourage the development of a fair, reasonable and consistent approach to governing behaviour.