Understanding the Basics of Law


Law is a set of rules that governs the actions of people and institutions. It can be made and enforced by governmental or social organizations, including the executive and courts.

In common law systems, laws are created through legislative statutes or judicial decisions that are then interpreted by the courts. The “doctrine of precedent” or stare decisis binds the courts to uphold previous court decisions.

Legal rights are some of the most basic and pervasive building blocks of law. They have shaped the course of the history of law and are at the center of many debates in legal theory.

The Content of Rights (Section 3)

The basic building blocks of legal rights are claims, privileges, powers, and immunities that rely on the normative status of an individual as a definite right-object. These rights may be in personam, where they designate an individual’s specific rights against a particular person or entities (such as contracts or trusts) or in rem, where they identify the right-object as a thing such as property.

Stringency and Weight of Rights

The extent to which rights trump or exclude conflicting reasons is called their “stringency” or “preemptory quality.” A right’s stringency is determined in the context of normative jurisprudence, political and constitutional theory, and judicial practice.

The weight of a right is determined in the same way, with considerations such as the ingredients of its moral justification, background social and political values and commitments, expediency, and institutional considerations. The weight of a right is typically expressed in terms of how significant it is to a person’s well-being or to the public good.