Law is the set of rules and regulations that govern society, and are enforceable by the courts. People can be fined, sent to jail or have their property taken by the government for breaking a law.
The study of law is a field of academic study that involves studying the body of laws in a jurisdiction and the interpretation of those laws by judges, lawyers and other legal professionals. There are many disciplines involved in the study of law, including public law, private law and civil law.
In some cases, there are multiple sources of law; in other cases, a single source of law dominates the legal system. In many cases, the source of a legal system is derived from religion or tradition.
Religious law is based on a code of rules established by a religious group that is recognized by the community as binding. These codes may be in the form of canons, or they may be more informal and include edicts or traditions.
Another form of legal law is that based on religious precepts, such as the Jewish Halakha or Islamic Sharia. Some church communities have their own religious codes that are also recognized as law by their members, although these are not enforced by the government and do not involve a formal judicial process.
Other forms of law may be based on principles derived from the moral and social world, and these are often called “natural” or “moral” laws. Examples of such principles include a right to life and liberty (see Article 2 of the Declaration of Human Rights), a monopoly over certain goods or services, and prohibitions against discrimination.
Utilitarian theories of justice, such as those developed by Jeremy Bentham, have long been the dominant legal theory. These utilitarian ideas have been challenged by natural lawyers, who argue that human nature and the way people act are inextricably linked to natural laws.
Some of these natural laws are embodied in the law, and others are reflected in the values and beliefs held by the majority of the population. For example, a common belief in the United States is that the law protects individual rights and promotes economic justice.
Unlike moral rights, which are considered to be “perfect” in that they are enforceable, legal rights vary in their stringency and weight. The extent of a legal right’s stringency is governed by normative jurisprudence, political and constitutional theory, and judicial practice.
The weight of a legal right is typically determined by the ingredients of the right’s moral justification, background social and political values and commitments, expediency and institutional considerations. These criteria can be difficult to identify and quantify.
In the United States, for instance, rights are frequently assessed by reference to whether or not they would be violated if they were applied to real-life situations. This assessment is sometimes made in a variety of ways, such as considering the moral justification of the right, the weight of its ingredients, and the consequences for the rights-holder if it is not met.