Law refers to the body of rules that governs a society or group. Typically, the laws are enforced by a controlling authority, such as a government.
The term “law” comes from the Latin word lege, meaning rule or ordinance. The term can also be used to refer to the written laws of a nation, which may vary from place to place.
There are several theories that explain how and why the legal system develops and explains rights (see below). The most prominent theory is the “demand theory of rights,” which emphasizes the capacity or power of right-holders to claim or demand certain benefits.
Joel Feinberg’s most influential work on this topic, The Constitution of Human Rights, argues that the legal system should be oriented towards protecting rights by giving them a moral basis and promoting them as the primary unit of concern in the law (Feinberg 1970; 1980; 1992: 155; Darwall 2006: 18-19).
Another theory is that rights are primarily designed to serve the needs of the individual. This is the view of Bentham, whose famous statement is: “Law ought to promote good social consequences, not reflect vague, dogmatic, antiquated, and moralistic notions of natural rights.”
In many nations, the political structure of the state influences the way in which law is made. In the United States, for example, every bill that is brought to the House and Senate must be voted on and if two-thirds of the Senate vote in favor of the bill, it becomes a law.
There are two major types of law: civil and criminal. The former, which is found in about 60% of the world, focuses on social cooperation and respect for human rights. The latter, which is found in about 10% of the world, focuses on regulating economic and personal relationships between individuals.
The legal systems that cover most of the world are based on a system of concepts, categories, and rules derived from Roman law and canon law. These systems have evolved over the centuries and are often influenced by local customs and traditions.
While most of the world’s legal systems are based on the same ideas, they differ in important ways. The main differences are in the extent to which they focus on human rights and the degree of their coherence and consistency with the general moral philosophy.
For instance, in the United States, the constitutional rights of individuals are codified, and most of these rights have been affirmed by the Supreme Court as being a part of the fundamental law of the land.
This approach to the legal system, however, can lead to tensions between rights and the common good that are difficult to avoid. A classic example is the conflict between the right to liberty and the duty to preserve society’s resources.
In the end, the best approach to a legal system committed to rights is a combination of both theories. Some, such as Nozick, believe that rights should serve the individual’s interests; others, such as Dworkin, believe that rights should be neutral and aimed at the common good. Still others, such as Wellman, argue that rights can be overridden by the common good if it serves better the interests of society as a whole.