Philosophy of Law by Raymond Wacks (Book Review)

  • Harmanjot Kaur Kang
  • July 26, 2020

Content :


Raymond Wacks in Emeritus Professor of Law and Legal Theory at the University of Hong Kong where he was Head of the Department of Law from 1986 to 1993. He was educated at the University of Witwatersrand, the London School of Economics, and University College, Oxford. His major areas of interest are legal theory, and human rights, in particular the protection of privacy (the subject of his doctoral thesis) on which he is a leading international authority.

The book ‘Philosophy of Law’ has been published in the year 2006 by the Oxford University Press. They have been translated into numerous languages including Arabic, Greek, Chinese, Indonesian, Italian, Turkish, Japanese, Thai, Korean, Slovene, and Georgian. It consists of 139 pages.

The book highlights on the aspect that law is a beautiful field with wide range of intricacies. We can see it as a limelight in everyday life. This foreshadow can be mesmerized at the bark of the day, when one goes to work. Every day, even the smallest details of life such as jumping into a bus, and paying of requisite charges of fare, drafting a deed, transfer of property all are governed by law. 

Nature is governed by two sovereign masters: pleasure and pain. Like a jewel in a brooch, everyday chores are governed by law of torts, contracts, transfer of property, competition act, etc.


The book provides an overview of how law is related to the life of an individual. It basically highlights how, there is a connection of law, to our daily activities ranging from the time when we start our day by travelling on a bus to the work, forming partnership at workplace, attending dinners and parties which however forms domestic contracts pertinent to the facts and circumstances.

Then there are instances where we see that in businesses there is Companies Law, Partnership Act, Information and Technology Act, Right to Information, Banking Law, Sales of Goods Act, Torts and its sub-branches etc.
The author tries to summarize the function of law by comparing it to the game of football, chess, bridge and many more.


“The law as I see has two great objects: to preserve order and to do justice; and the two do not always coincide. Those whose training lies towards order, put certainty before justice; whereas those whose training lies toward the redress of grievances, put justice before certainty. The right solution lies inn keeping the proper balance between two.” (Page 37, Justice, The Philosophy of Law)

Justice requires more than just laws; the process whereby justice is attained must be fair one. This entails, first, an impartial, independent judicial system (discussed in Chapter 5). Second, there must be a competent and independent legal profession (included in Chapter 5). Third, procedural justice is a vital ingredient of a just legal system. These necessities, amongst other things, access to legal advice, assistance and representation, and the guarantee of a fair trial. (discussed in Chapter 4)

Apart from Justice, there is discussion about Jurisprudence in this book. There are instances wherein there is a discussion of Interpretation of Statutes with reference to subjects such as ‘Mischief Rule’ (or the rule in Heydon’s Case), ‘Literal Rule’, ‘The Golden (or purposive) Rule’ etc.

Statutes are rarely a panacea; indeed, they not infrequently achieve the precise opposite of what their draftsmen intended. (Page 44, The Philosophy of Law)

There are occurrences where we can see the use of Hindu Law, Islamic Law, Talmudic Law, Chinese Law, Customary Law etc. which basically covers all the fundamental customary laws prevalent in the world. The principle of Karma etc. under Hindu Law is also covered here.

We can see illustrations from Indian Penal Code, the use of the term Habeas corpus etc. This can be actualized in the following instances:

“The law lays down certain ground rules. Murder is wrong. So is theft. Legal rules against these and other forms of antisocial behaviour are the most obvious, and the most conspicuous, instances of legal regulation. Modern governments seek to persuade us to behave well by means other than compulsion. Often the carrot cannot be replaced by stick.” (Page 41, The Philosophy of Law, Raymond Warks)

“Basic institutions, concepts, and values…have their sources in religious rituals, liturgies, and doctrines of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, reflecting new attitudes towards death, sin, punishment, forgiveness and salvation, as well as new assumptions concerning the relationship of the divine to the human and of faith to reason.”
(Page 30, The Philosophy of Law, Raymond Wacks)

The complex legal jargons such as ‘stare decisis’, ‘orbiter dicta’, ‘ratio decidendi’ etc. are explained in a simple and easy language with utmost precision.


As the name suggests the book talks about the ‘Philosophy of Law’. It gives you an overview of all the important aspects of law at various levels. 


• Eagle – eye viewpoint
• Very informative 
• Acknowledges Chinese, Hindu, Islamic, Universal Civil Law and Criminal Law
• A kick-start for a basic knowledge to a law student
• Gives insight to a wide area under its scope
• Good tool for building vocabulary
• Easy language in case laws
• Unique in its own way as it has a lot to cover in very less time
• Good text size with references and footnotes
• Use of more similes and metaphors, unpretentious language


• Less graphical representation
• There should be more inclusion of memes and images
• Absence of mind maps and flowcharts 
• There should’ve been the use of simpler language
• A 13-year-old won’t find the vocabulary easy
• At places the history is very elaborative
• Chapters should’ve been tacit and succinct
• There is less emphasis on statutes, precedents are followed
• In comparison to Francis Bacon’s work, it was a little bit more elaborative


The book is very simple yet interesting and I would suggest everyone to read it. It is written in eloquent language and is very helpful especially for the students of first year of their law colleges. Even the students who are appearing for CLAT can give it a shot. 

It gives the insight of the five-year course of what one need to learn in a law school with an eagle eye`s view. It would definitely help you build a decent vocabulary and I would suggest everyone to read it.

The author has summarized so beautifully the work and the correct format of studying law. It will definitely give you a new perspective of how you need to study law.

Even if one should really consider to study law and find out if law is really their passion, I would suggest to study this book. The crux of the matter, in such an abridged format can only be seen in this book. 

The book not only covers law and its branches at national and international level, but also it covers politics, history, origin, jurisprudence, interpretation of statutes with great precision.

The legal jargons and maxims are succinctly explained such that after reading the book once you would remember their application and related provisions throughout life. 

The author is able to support his arguments at every point with evident case laws. These are related to torts, law of contracts written here. The language of these case laws is so unsophisticated that you would learn case laws even by reading the book twice with full concentration.

Lastly, I can’t stress that enough, reading this book would help you build critical thinking and analytical skills. You can really understand if you should pursue law or not by reading it as it covers all the important aspects and the level of interest you would feel while reading it would help to make a rational decision about your career path.