Law is a set of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. In a society, laws ensure the peace, preserve individual liberty and rights, resolve disputes, and provide for orderly change. These goals are not always served by a single system of law, however, and the precise nature of law has long been debated. Laws can be created through a collective legislature, resulting in statutes, by the executive through decrees and regulations, or by courts, resulting in case law. Private individuals can also create legally binding contracts, enforceable by law.
A legal theory is an approach to understanding what constitutes the law. There are many different approaches to this question, and the result of these competing theories is a great diversity of legal practice and philosophy. Nevertheless, there are some common features to most legal theories.
The most basic characteristic of a legal theory is that it attempts to explain the law by describing its effects on people and their decisions. This is a very broad description, but it essentially makes law a discipline that studies the behavior of people in relation to the expectations they have about their actions. Unlike other sciences, such as physics or biology, the laws of a society are not based on empirical observations. Instead, they are based on expectations and models of the way that people behave.
Moreover, a legal theory should attempt to predict the effect of an action on a person or group. This is a difficult task because, unlike in science, where experimental results can be verified, laws of a society are not empirically verifiable. However, they can be validated using a method known as “benefit-cost analysis.” This process involves making predictions about a hypothetical situation in which a person or group will perform a certain action and then weighing those predicted outcomes against the potential costs.
While a benefit-cost analysis can be used to determine whether a particular action is ethical, it cannot tell us what actions are ethical or unethical. The reason is that there are two kinds of possible results of an action: those that are good or bad, and those that are feasible or not feasible. The evaluator must weigh the pros and cons of each, and then make a judgment as to which is most appropriate.
There are four universal principles that can serve as a foundation for any legal system: accountability, just law, open government, and accessible and impartial justice. These principles have been identified by scholars across the world and are recognized by all major legal traditions. However, how each group has defined these principles is a matter of great controversy and continues to be an ongoing discussion among legal professionals. These debates highlight the need for a non-modern perspective on the law that can be applied to both modern judicial and scientific applications of the concept of law.