The Function of Law


Law is a system of rules that a society or government develops in order to deal with crime, business agreements and social relationships. It is a broadly conceived concept and can refer to the legal field as a career, as Zola wanted to be when she was growing up or simply the set of laws that govern a specific area like criminal or commercial law.

The primary functions of law are to keep the peace, maintain the status quo, promote social justice, and provide for peaceful and orderly social change. Some legal systems serve these goals better than others. For example, a dictatorial regime may keep the peace but it might oppress minorities or prevent democratic reform. The political-legal landscape is very different from nation to nation and, of course, many societies are in a constant state of flux, but law should always aim for the best possible results.

Blackstone defined the law as “a set of rules enacted by authority, commanding what is right and prohibiting what is wrong. It is permanent as to time, uniform in respect of all persons, and universal as to place.”

Joel Feinberg and Stephen Darwall are among the most prominent defenders of what has been called a third theory of the function of rights–that is, a view that argues that rights justify correlative duties (Waldron 1977: 185; Raz 1986: 167). But this approach does not fit with the way we ordinarily think about the direction of justification from right to duty.

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