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POLS 200 Introduction to Law: Home

This guide provides a practical overview to the legal resources at the Highline library and available over the web.

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Word Version of this Libguide

Below is a link to a Word version of this library guide for printing.

Categories of Law

Positive Law
Those laws that have been duly enacted by a properly instituted and popularly recognized branch of government.
Positive laws may be promulgated, passed, adopted, or otherwise “posited” by an official or entity vested with authority by the government to prescribe the rules and regulations for a particular community. In the United States, positive laws come in a variety of forms at both the state and federal levels, including legislative enactments, judicial orders, executive decrees, and administrative regulations. In short, a positive law is any express written command of the government. The belief that the only legitimate sources of law are those written rules and regulations laid down by the government is known as Positivism. 

Natural Law
The unwritten body of universal moral principles that underlie the ethical and legal norms by which human conduct is sometimes evaluated and governed. Natural law is often contrasted with positive law, which consists of the written rules and regulations enacted by government. The term natural law is derived from the Roman term jus naturale. Adherents to natural law philosophy are known as naturalists, who believe that natural law principles are an inherent part of nature and exist regardless of whether government recognizes or enforces them. Naturalists further believe that governments must incorporate natural law principles into their legal systems before justice can be achieved. There are three schools of natural law theory: divine natural law, secular natural law, and historical natural law.

  • Divine natural law proponents contend that law must be made to conform to the commands they believe were laid down or inspired by God, or some other deity, who governs according to principles of compassion, truth, and justice. These naturalists assert that the legitimacy of any enacted human law must be measured by its consonance with divine principles of right and wrong.
  •  Historical natural law holds that law must be made to conform with the well-established, but unwritten, customs, traditions, and experiences that have evolved over the course of history.
  • Natural law, also known as secular natural law, replaces the divine laws of God with the physical, biological, and behavioral laws of nature as understood by human reason. This school theorizes about the uniform and fixed rules of nature, particularly human nature, to identify moral and ethical norms.

Common Law
the traditional unwritten law of England, based on custom and usage, which began to develop over a thousand years before the founding of the United States.  Today almost all common law has been enacted into statutes with modern variations by all the states except Louisiana, which is still influenced by the Napoleonic Code. In some states the principles of Common Law are so basic they are applied without reference to statute.

note:  all definitions are from the Gale Encyclopedia of American Law

Definitions of Law

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines law as "a binding custom or practice of a community : a rule of conduct or action prescribed or formally recognized as binding or enforced by a controlling authority (2) : the whole body of such customs, practices, or rules."

Law.com states it as "any system of regulations to govern the conduct of the people of a community, society or nation, in response to the need for regularity, consistency and justice based upon collective human experience."