Epistemological Accessibility of Law


Law is a body of rules promulgated and enforced by institutions with the power to do so. It is a rich source of scholarly inquiry into legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology, while also raising profound questions about fairness and justice.

Law deals with the resolution of disputes between individuals or between an individual and a state or local government. It has many different facets including civil law (that which involves compensation for injury to property or person) and criminal law (those that punish a person for conduct considered harmful to social order).

Legal systems vary widely in their structure and substance. Some laws are codified, meaning that the specifics of a particular situation are clearly set out and can be applied with consistency by judges. Other laws are derived from custom and experience, which are often the basis for more detailed rules that can be interpreted by judges according to their particular understanding of the social context in which they operate. Yet other laws are based on religion, with the Islamic Sharia and Jewish Halakha being examples of religion-based law.

Regardless of how they are made, all legal rules must be epistemically accessible to citizens in order for them to study and internalize them as a framework for their own lives. This means that they must be clear, predictable and consistent enough for people to understand them and use them as a guide in planning their futures and settling disputes with others. Furthermore, a rule cannot mandate behaviours that are unattainable or coerce people into undertaking activities beyond their physical capabilities.

For these reasons and more, it is a crucial goal of legal theory to define the rules of law in terms of their epistemological accessibility. This has led to the development of principles such as Fuller’s Inner Morality of Law – that is, a set of rules for lawmaking that require laws to be public, prospective, coherent, clear, stable and practicable.

The application of these rules of law in practice remains a challenge. Among other things, the growth of modern military, police and bureaucratic power over ordinary citizens raises special issues of accountability that did not arise for Locke or Montesquieu, for example.

The way in which legal decisions are made has also evolved significantly since the time of the Roman Empire. The precise nature of this evolution is the subject of continuing scholarly debate, but it has included the gradual introduction of professionalization of the legal system, the development of case law in England and the introduction of precedent by American courts. This last has been a major influence on British common law and, in turn, on the developing systems of international law such as the United Nations Charter. In addition, the development of new technologies such as electronic evidence and the Internet are changing the nature of litigation in many ways. The resulting challenges will no doubt continue to shape the law for years to come.