Theoretical Perspectives on Law

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Law is the set of rules that social and governmental institutions enforce to regulate behavior. It can include statutes, regulations and decrees by governments; or contracts, judgments and precedents by courts.

Legal systems are designed to serve particular purposes, such as keeping the peace, maintaining the status quo, preserving individual rights, protecting minorities against majorities, promoting social justice, and providing for orderly social change. Some systems are more effective than others at accomplishing these goals (see, e.g., colonialism and authoritarian rule).

Theoretical Perspectives on Law

Some of the most prominent theories of the function of rights focus on the capacity or power of right-holders to claim and demand. This is known as the demand theory of rights.

Theorists who hold to this view generally see rights as outcomes rather than reasons. They argue that a legal system is committed to rights only when it includes at least one correlative duty or right.

In this sense, a legal system dedicated to rights is one that favors treating the individual person as its primary unit of concern. To paraphrase Thomas Hardy, if “poetry is emotion put into measure,” then the individual’s life and well-being should be a primary concern of law.