The Basics of Law

Law is the body of rules that govern human behavior and the relationships among people. It encompasses a range of legal systems, such as civil, criminal, and property law, as well as a host of other disciplines that are concerned with the regulation of private lives.

The basic principles of Law are that it is based on rationality and the rule of law, which means that it is designed to promote justice in society. It also seeks to achieve these goals in a manner that is consistent with the general good.

There are many theories and approaches to law, which vary in their emphasis on the importance of morality or reason. Utilitarian theories, such as John Austin’s, emphasize the utility of law in promoting a fair and just society. Natural lawyers, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, on the other hand, emphasize that law is a reflection of essentially moral and unchangeable laws of nature.

Powers and immunities

In a legal system, one is considered to have a right to power over another person (or group) if he or she has the legally recognized power to alter some aspect of a normative position, or to create a new legal relationship. Correspondingly, one holds an immunity against a power held by the other person or group if he or she lacks the legal power to alter an aspect of a normative position, or if he or she has been disabled from altering that power due to some impediment such as an infirmity or a disability.

Rights are typically defeasible and stringent, which is to say that they usually exclude conflicting reasons and duties (Jones 1994; Kramer 1998; Wellman 1995). The “peremptory” quality of a right is measured by the scope of the conflicting reasons that it trumps or excludes, and by the demanding demands of the duties grounded in the right.

Nevertheless, rights can be violated by others, which can lead to a conflict between two or more of those rights. Such a situation is sometimes called a “rights conflict” or “incompatible claims.”

While it can be difficult to explain why some rights are more stringent than others, there are several possible explanations.

First, in some situations, the right-holder has a heightened obligation to protect or further her or his interests; this is known as the Interest Theory. It is common for legal rights to be in the service of interests (Wellman 1995; MacCormick 1977: 205).

Second, rights are sometimes necessary to protect the amoral or irrational interests of other individuals and organizations. For example, the right-holder may have to protect herself or others from an individual or organization that is doing something irrational because she or they are harmed by it, such as in the case of a predatory slumlord.

Third, rights are sometimes necessary to protect the interests of a government (Fitzgerald 1966: 233; Raz 1994: 256). For example, the right-holder may need to prevent her or his state from violating an individual’s rights in order to safeguard the amoral or irrational interest of the state.