3 Thinking about law
In Section 1 we outlined the definition of law that would be used in this course. This is the working definition used here but the meaning of ‘law’ is much debated and legal theorists do not agree on its meaning (or even why we obey the law).
There is a difference between common sense understandings of ‘law’ and the debates that legal theorists and lawyers have about law. At first this may seem illogical, unsatisfactory and difficult to comprehend, but it is an important point to note and one that goes towards an appreciation of the relationship between law and society.
Some see law as technical and difficult and that studying law involves remembering an endless series of rules. Others recognise that the content of law changes over time, that law is not a fixed body of rules and does not always provide a clear answer. Understanding the underlying principles, developing the skills of how to find relevant law, to read and apply it in practice, keeping abreast of legal developments, thinking about its place and role in society are essential to gain an understanding of the role of law within society.
One of the areas of debate concerns the relationship between law and morals. Law and moral values both set out acceptable behaviours within society. Is law separate from the moral values of the society in which it operates or are they inextricably linked? The following sections explore this.