What Is Law?


Law is the body of norms that govern the conduct of individuals and society. It should be epistemically accessible, a public body of knowledge that people can study, internalize, and use as a guide. Its purpose is to protect people and society from abuse of power and to settle disputes. Ultimately, it should ensure independence for the judiciary, accountability for government officials, and the integrity of legal procedures.

Rule of Law

Rule of law is the principle that all people are subject to the law. It is a concept that stands in contrast to oligarchy and tyranny. In 1215, Archbishop Stephen Langton and the Barons in England were able to bring King John under the rule of law by forcing him to abide by the Magna Carta. This document protected the rights of citizens and required taxes, and it laid the foundation for the United States Constitution.

While the idea of Rule of Law is important, there are many questions about the concept. This is one of the reasons that we need to engage in philosophical reflections.

Human rights component

Human rights are a basic component of the rule of law. The principle that they must be respected is not new or controversial. Yet, some have argued that the concept of human rights is insufficient, and that it has become outdated. Three-quarters of the world’s countries have signed the major international human rights treaties, and many participate in regional human rights regimes and international courts. As a result, all countries share many of the same values and institutions. For example, most use similar political institutions, legal systems, legislative systems, executive systems, bureaucracies, taxation, and public schools. This has reduced the number of differences between countries, and, consequently, between people.

Another important aspect of human rights law is international humanitarian law. This area of law regulates the treatment of prisoners of war and injured combatants. The four Geneva Conventions contain several provisions dealing with the treatment of such people.

Formal/procedural character

In a legal system, the formal/procedural character of law is the way that law is created and implemented. It involves rules about jurisdiction, pleading and practice, evidence, and the execution of judgments. This type of law has a fundamental difference from substantive law.

The basic difference between formal and procedural character is the extent to which formal features are independent of substantive content. In some cases, a certain amount of consonance can be achieved between formal features and the substantive content of the law, but this is sporadic and may increase the unpredictability of law.

Substantive ideals

Substantive ideals in law are the principles of justice that guide the rule of law. In a country with a rule of law, these principles are integrated with other ideals of a society. Some are more universally accepted than others. For instance, a rule of law that protects individual liberty is a good idea.

Substantive ideals in law are also useful for advancing gender equality. They require that women and minorities be treated equally in legal proceedings. They also require that every participant be given equal protection. These ideals are fundamental to the rule of law and ensure that justice is done without causing harm. Other essential principles of the rule of law are the separation of powers and the avoidance of arbitrariness in the law.