The Concept and Purpose of Law


Law is the set of rules and customs enforced by a controlling authority to govern behavior, maintain order, and ensure justice. It is a complex subject that covers many areas of life, from property to criminal justice. The Rule of Law has been an important ideal in the political tradition for millennia, but modern understandings of it vary widely.

Most laws are enacted and enforced by governmental agencies, such as the police or the military. However, a significant portion of law is created by private citizens, who submit proposals for new laws to a governing body, or to a group that has the authority to create new legislation. Laws are a fundamental part of most societies, and their purpose is to promote public well-being. This involves maintaining order, settling disputes and preventing social change that could threaten the stability of society.

There are many different kinds of law: civil law concerns disputes between individuals, and common law deals with the rights of individuals in a community. In addition, there is administrative law that regulates a number of industries such as energy, water and telecoms. International law concerns the law of nations, and international legal institutions are tasked with ensuring their members comply with each other’s laws and treaties.

The concept of law is inherently contested, especially when it comes to the notion that it should be objective and unbiased. The problem of bias in a lawmaking process is especially acute in democratic systems where decisions are made by majority vote. However, this problem is inherent in any decision-making system that relies on human judgment.

Moreover, law cannot be truly objective because the shape of the physical world determines what is possible and impossible in the sense that law can only mandate behaviours that are compatible with the limits of humans’ mental capacity and physical capabilities. Thus, while Fuller (1964) argues that a law of the kind that people value most must contain precepts that are both “coherent and moral”, he concedes that such a law may still be perverted by evil regimes.

The primary purpose of law is to establish standards, maintain order, settle disputes and protect liberty and rights. Arguments about the importance of law as an institution in a democracy have long been an element of political culture. They have ranged from ancient thinkers such as Aristotle to medieval theorists like Sir John Fortescue (1471), through the Enlightenment work of Montesquieu (1748) and James Harrington (1656) to American constitutionalism in The Federalist Papers. These arguments are usually about the need for a separation of power between ruler and ruled, a form of judicial impartiality, the need for legal certainty and predictability, and the avoidance of oppression and inequality. Some people have also argued that the principle of a law of the kind that people value is an antidote to totalitarianism.