What Defines Law?

Law is a set of rules that form a framework to ensure a peaceful society and that are enforced by the state. If these rules are broken sanctions can be imposed. Many different definitions of Law have been proposed, from utilitarian theories like those of John Austin to ideas about morality such as those promoted by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Thomas Aquinas.

One of the most fundamental issues in law is how to determine what defines a Law. Some argue that, at a minimum, a Law must be enforceable and must be consistent with people’s sense of right and wrong. Others point out that laws often have layers of complexity. They might suggest a course of action that is not clearly explained, for example the suggestion to eat five fruits and vegetables a day, or they might describe a range of possible actions, such as stealing and embezzlement, but leave it up to the judge to decide whether these are a breach of the Law.

It is also a matter of debate whether a Law must be written in a way that can be read between the lines. Some argue that this is not possible because the spirit of a Law must be understood as well as its specific wording. Others, however, think that this is essential to prevent arbitrary power from being exercised over the public.

It is important to remember that not all Law comes from a sovereign. For example, international customary Law develops through the use of common practices and is just as valid as any other Law.

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