Understanding the Basics of Law
Law is a system of rules that governs the actions of people. It is an important part of society and the study of it is a central part of political science, philosophy, and sociology.
Legal norms – the rules that determine what people must do or not do in a given situation – are typically enacted by a government. They can include laws, rules, regulations, precepts, statutes, ordinances, or canons.
Rights – the claims of someone to something else – are often used as justification for legal decisions. These rights can be general in nature and apply to situations in which they are not specifically limited, or they can be more specific and limit a particular case that the law decides on.
Justification for a right is the process by which a claim is judged to be valid or not, and it involves a determination of what legal norms are being grounding the claim.
Usually, rights are justified in terms of legal norms based on a general rule that every person has a right (or that a given group does), but there are some exceptions to this rule.
First, some rights are group rights and therefore ideally align with the common good (Raz 1986: 207-209); for example, cultural rights and people’s rights to self-determination.
Second, some rights are more abstract and thus can be formulated in broad statements such as “every person has the right to life, liberty, and property.” These abstract rights often appear as reasons in favor of certain legal positions, and they may also conflict with other values.
Third, some rights are merely practical; in other words, they can be exercised only if the legal conditions that allow them to be applied are met. This makes them less problematic than concrete rights, which can be more easily assessed against the practical conditions of a particular case.
Fourth, some rights are based on the idea that there is a single truth about a certain topic. For example, Alice’s observation of a particle’s polarity is a “truth” about a particle in the physical world, while Bob’s observation of the Born rule embodies an objective truth about a particle in the scientific world.
Fifth, some rights are based on the idea of a practical goal, or an intention, and these can be useful for determining the course of action to be taken in a given situation. For example, the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights lays out a number of rights in the form of prohibitions and general obligations to respect other people’s rights.
Despite the variety of ways in which people have interpreted and understood the relationship between rights and law, they are generally accepted as a basis for legal decision-making. For this reason, they can be a powerful tool for the protection of human dignity and rights.