Understanding the Philosophy of Laws

Laws are nothing but the dictates of the state made for the general welfare of society. Laws are not arbitrary demands made to any one person by the state. Laws are aimed to protect the interests of the people who make up the society and serve their basic needs. Laws are not imposed by anyone, merely because they are made by the state. Laws are nothing but the judgments and the conclusion arrived at by the society through its processes of judgment making and evaluation


Law is a broad system of ordered rules developed and enforced by governmental or societal institutions to govern behavior, with an exact definition, in the sense of human justice, a matter of long standing debate. In the modern era, laws have grown to become an important and inevitable part of people’s daily lives. It is the source and basis of the social order and the state’s ability to protect its citizens from wrongdoers. It is also the means whereby individuals and groups to guarantee the fulfillment of their obligations and duties to other individuals and groups, and to pursue their goals within a given social context.

A concept of law that pervades our social and legal systems is that of obligation or responsibility. This concept is essentially a duality of Persons/Rights/Duties (WHD&D) where WHD being the individuals’ fundamental rights and Duties being the institutions or governmental bodies’ responsibilities and obligations. A number of these institutions, like the government, school, hospital and even neighborhood groups, have developed concepts of right and wrong based on this duality of moral obligation. The importance of laws therefore cannot be understood without reference to this moral dilemma of obligation.

Many theorists, including Rawls, Machinists, utilitarian, and many others, hold that laws are socially optimal because they improve the condition of the society as a whole. Since laws are meant to benefit the people living under them, they often increase the overall well-being of the society at large. By following a set of rules or laws, a society ensures its members’ basic moral values, which in turn increases their sense of responsibility. In a social setting where people take responsibility for others, the society as a whole benefits by having greater mutual trust, solidarity and social bonding.

For some philosophers, the important element in laws is that of common law. Within the framework of a common law system is a body of law that encompasses and specifies all the laws of a country or area. There is a number of theorists who believe that the most important feature in a common law system is the rule of justice, which they call ‘the principle of reciprocity’. This principle states that the criminal law should be just, but it does not follow that a society has to have just laws. This is because a society can have just laws if it so chooses, and even if it is unable to follow the said principles due to external pressures, such as the political power of a specific group, national/international economic pressures or even internal pressures, such as social sentiment.

In addition, there are other theories that are the foundation of moral law. Some of these include notions of human rights, natural law, and private property. A number of these theories underlie the practices that occur within a legal system, including freedom of speech, freedom of contract, and various concepts regarding the administration of justice within a society. These practices may vary, from the application of laws within a common law system to the application of moral principles to private conduct.