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Sapere aude - dare to be wise
Wednesday, January 26, 2005
What is Law (Part I)
Posted 1:00 AM by Luke
What is law? I asked a variety of people with a variety of backgrounds. In the second installment, I give my reaction.

the responses:

(gender, age, occupation, religious affiliation) [when I have the info]

1. Female, 23, educator, United Church of Christ:
Law is the set of rules and standards set in a society that dictate moral right from wrong and the methods used to enforce those rules.

2. Male, 23, computer trainer/sales, Southern Baptist:
When you say law I think of governments reflecting as close as they can the right and wrong which is built into each of us. We know how we ought to act and yet do not do what we know we should. So government has to impose restrictions to "help usÂ… we know how we should act, we don't, therefore we have laws.

3. Male, 21, student, Roman Catholic:
The law can protect a nation's people if and only if the nation's people protect the law.

4. Male, 23, reporter, Reformed Presbyterian:
Law is the rules and enforced ethics that govern the way humans interact in society.

5. Male, 35, computer technician, Christian:
Law is the means by which a society tries to enumerate and enforce certain standards of behavior and interaction.

6. Male, 23, geology grad student, Roman Catholic:
Law is the codification of a set of rules that are needed to govern and maintain a society. Laws serve to discourage behavior that the society deems unacceptable and also restrain the governing body of that society, in order to prevent autocratic behavior.

7. Male, 22, history major, Roman Catholic:
Law is a guideline, which is enforced either strictly or leniently, having been established by the ruling authority of a particular society. It exists as a means of social control, which facilitates the very existence of society. Without the rule of law, human beings would find themselves unable to exist in social groups for fear of murder, theft, etc. from their fellow humans.

8. Male, 54, newspaper columnist, Reformed Presbyterian:
I guess my simple, off-hand answer would be: rules adopted on a more permanent basis. I would distinguish the law of God from the laws of men...

9. Male, engineer, 60, Roman Catholic:
Law is the system we have that forces society, and for the good of society, to live by a set of statutes or rules. The statutes are enacted by our congress; guided by the US constitution, the ten commandants, and the golden rule; enforced by our executive governmental branch and judged for its constitutionality by our supreme court.

10. Male, 31, computer technician, agnostic:
Law, in the sense of what you are studying, is a human conceived set of things to do (and not do), that puts order on the natural chaos of human society. It is also guidelines to protect the well-being of an individual or group that is within a larger group. It is to protect people and create a stable society, independent of a dominant way of thinking. Unfortunately it can get bogged down by religious influence and what one thinks is their own moral high ground (which is a matter of opinion, not rooted in society or how to live in said society).

11. Female, law professor
For me it doesn't work simply to say that law is a statute or rule that society is willing to put its resources into enforcing - as it raises the old chicken and egg problem. Conversely, if you go at it from the natural law perspective - there being laws/truths out there that are in themselves discoverable and absolute and should be governing principles - it is sort of the other end of the same discussion. I tend to err on the practical when the spotlight hits me. So I guess to me law is the body of regulatory principles that are perceived by a given society as authoritative guidelines around which that group of individuals can organize their conduct.

12. Male, 50s, attorney, Roman Catholic:
The law of a political entity is the set of rules by which that entity 1. decrees what is proper and improper conduct; 2. sets out how it will deal with those whose conduct is improper; and 3. resolves disputes between its members who are unable to settle the disputes on their own.

13. Male, 32, newspaper editor:
The way society chooses to rule itself, how it determines what is right and
what is wrong, and how society can provide structure to organize and
operate as a community (locally, regionally and globally).

14. Female, 30s, astronaut in training, Roman Catholic:
The law is a defined set of principles and regulations that are determined by a higher authority, and they are only meaningful if they are enforced.

15. Female, 50s, attorney, Roman Catholic:
The law is a code of conduct agreed to by a community of people. The law sets up acceptable boundaries for human behavior. The law seeks to provide predictability and uniformity in the affairs of people. The law seeks to impose similar consequences for similar behaviors regardless of who the individual may be who transgresses the law. The law is an imperfect system, imposed on imperfect people and situations with imperfect results, but hey, it's a start.

16. Male, law professor:
Your question is one over which I have spent thirty-four years puzzling. I have come to believe that a few sentences about what law is would say far too much about the subject and volumes would say far too little. If that seems paradoxical to you, perhaps you have a sense of why it is still a puzzle to me.

17. Male, law professor:
'Law' is the justification for power.

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