What Is Law?


Law is a set of rules that govern the behavior of people and organizations. These laws are usually established for a specific purpose, such as protecting people from harm or to ensure that justice is done in the case of a dispute between two parties.

In the United States, there are different types of law: civil law, which governs contracts and other relationships between people; criminal law, which governs crime; and political asylum law, which governs immigration and other legal matters pertaining to a person’s status in another country. In addition, there are laws for the government, which govern the way the government operates and protects its citizens.

Several schools of law exist. Some, such as formalism, or conceptualism, believe that a judge logically deduces a rule governing the outcome of a dispute, while others, such as legal realism, believe that judges must make decisions about the best course of action based on the facts and their own personal feelings.

Some courts are en banc, which means that all the judges of a particular court are in the same room to decide a case, rather than the usual disposition by panels of three. In the United States, an en banc panel typically includes 11 randomly selected judges.

The moral justification of a legal right is not self-evident, and it does not guarantee that positive law contains rights that are morally justified (Lyons 1982: 113; 1994: 154). There are many scholarly works on the subject of how to determine whether or not a legal right has a moral justification.

There are four Hohfeldian positions on which a right might stand: claim-rights, privileges, powers, and obligations. Claim-rights, the most prominent and resolute of the four, are the type of right that is most often associated with the word “right” in legal practice.

A claim-right is a legal norm that confers a type of entitlement on the subject of the right. For example, X holds a claim-right against Y with respect to some ph. The claim-right is only owed to X if and only if Y is under a correlative duty to X with respect to some ph.

To be a privilege, the legal norm bestowing the privilege must be a normative power and must be legally recognized. For example, a legal rule that prohibits a city from bestowing a permit is a privilege. A similar legal rule that forbids a city from bestowing a pension is a power.

In the Hohfeldian analysis, a power is a legal norm that enables a right-holder to alter some aspect of the rights that they stand in in relation to other rights-holders (Fitzgerald [Salmond] 1966: 333-341; Paton 1972: 319-320 & 433-485). A power may also be used to annul or transfer the legal legitimacy of some rights-holding claims and actions.

Some argue that a legal right is simply a normative result, a bottom line that is neither a reason nor an outcome, but rather “intermediate conclusions” that are both a basis for a duty and an outcome (Raz 1986: 181). Under this view, a claim-right or any other Hohfeldian legal norm can figure both as an outcome and as a reason, if it intersects with or counters-weights some other reasons to establish the rights in question.