Theories of Law


Law is a set of rules governing human interaction in order to maintain social stability and protect individual interests. The law includes criminal laws (enacted to keep the peace), civil law (enacted to compensate individuals who have been harmed physically or financially) and administrative law (enacted to regulate activities and govern the behavior of government agencies).

There are two basic types of legal systems: the continental or Romano-Germanic tradition found in most Western nations; and the more centralized civil law system found in many Eastern nations. Both serve a similar set of purposes, but differ in their degree of adherence to principles and norms developed from a classical or Roman legal tradition, and their influence on local custom and culture.

The legal system’s purpose is often stated in the Constitution of the country, but in general it serves to keep the peace, maintain the status quo, preserve individual rights, protect minorities against majorities, promote social justice, and provide for orderly social change. Some legal systems serve these purposes better than others, and the nature of a country’s legal system has an effect on the quality of life of its citizens.

Legal theory and interpretation are the study of the origins, development, and application of the legal system. Theories of law include those rooted in natural law, deontological principles, and utilitarian views.

Most Hohfeldian theories of rights focus on claim-rights, a class of entitlements or claims directed at particular right-objects (Raz 1970: 235-227; MacCormick 1982: 163-164; Dworkin 1977: 171). Claim-rights may justify correlative duties in some systems as well, such as Jewish law (see Cover 1987). In these cases, rights can be reasoned from duty to right (Waldron 1990: 84; Kramer 1998: 37-39), or from duty to countervailing reasons, such as self-interest.

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