What Is the Law?

The Law is a set of rules made by a government that citizens must follow. People who break the law could be fined or put in jail. The word “law” can also refer to a more generalized concept of rules that govern how things work, such as the laws of motion or of gravity. a set of principles governing how something works: the law of supply and demand; the law of gravity; the laws of thermodynamics.

A law is a body of norms promulgated as public knowledge so that people can study it, internalize it, use it to make plans and expectations, settle disputes with others, and protect themselves against abuses of private or public power. This requires the independence of the judiciary, the accountability of government officials, the transparency of business operations, and the integrity of legal procedures.

There is no way to empirically verify the contents of a law, so it cannot be argued that a particular set of precepts should or should not comprise such-and-such import: what laws should exist remains a question of choice. However, people value the Rule of Law for reasons that are more than formalistic: it makes them feel less vulnerable to arbitrary or peremptory control by their rulers, establishes what Fuller (1964) calls a bond of constraint between the rulers and ruled, and mitigates the asymmetry of political power.

Traditionally, the judicial community has embraced objectivity, but this ideal has not always been realized in practice. For example, it is difficult to predict that the same result will be obtained when a judge tests two defendants on the same set of facts. Holmes offers a different ontological understanding of law, proposing that it is an immanent and probabilistic process of observer-participancy: As participants’ experiences flow, their probability estimates are updated, and thus the legal system evolves.