Law is the set of rules created by governmental institutions to regulate behavior and enforce punishment when those rules are broken. Its precise definition is a subject of longstanding debate and has been described as both a science and an art.
Despite the many disagreements about what constitutes law, there is broad consensus that a society must have laws to function properly. These laws must be publicly promulgated, equally enforced, and independently adjudicated, and must be based on international human rights norms and standards.
This definition has been applied by countries to their own national legal systems and is the basis for the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index, which measures how well a country follows this standard. This Index is important because it provides an objective measure of how well a government adheres to the principles that are necessary for a functioning democracy and for providing opportunity for all people to live lives of peace and prosperity.
A number of different theories of Law have been put forth by philosophers, economists, and social scientists. One of the most prominent is that of Sherlock Holmes, who defines law as “a certain mode of observing things which every man is bound to follow.”5
In other words, if everyone observes the same thing in the same way, they will obtain the same result. Holmes’s view of law is an ontological one, and it has some merit because it is consistent with the scientific method in that both judicial and scientific practice involve predicting outcomes based on expected probability.
Other concepts of Law have a more teleological or causal structure. These include the Law of Attraction, which says that like attracts like; and the Law of Gravity, which states that objects fall to the ground with a predictable acceleration. These laws can be useful because they provide guidance about how to behave in a particular situation.
Whether an individual can actually follow the Law of Attraction or the Law of Gravity, however, depends on how much effort they are willing to expend in attempting to do so. Similarly, the Rule of Law requires a substantial effort on the part of governments to ensure that all citizens have access to the courts and to legal advice.
Another important concept of Law is that of separation of powers. The framers of the U.S. Constitution understood that an absolute power wielded by a single individual or group would tend to corrupt the entire system of Law. For this reason, they designed our federal government so that each branch of the federal government (legislative, executive, and judicial) had limited control over the others. This principle, known as checks and balances, ensures that no one person or group gains too much power to become a law unto themselves.