An early summary of them is found in Charles Lyell's .In no way are they meant to imply there are no exceptions.
Despite this, the "principle of cross cutting relationships" can be used to determine the sequence of deposition, folds, and faults based on their intersections -- if folds and faults deform or cut across the sedimentary layers and surfaces, then they obviously came after deposition of the sediments.
You can't deform a structure (e.g., bedding) that is not there yet!
They are applied by geologists in the same sense that a "null hypothesis" is in statistics -- not necessarily correct, just testable.
In the last 200 or more years of their application, they are valid, but geologists do not assume they are.
As an example of how they are used, radiometric dates from geologically simple, fossiliferous Cretaceous rocks in western North America are compared to the geological time scale.
To get to that point, there is also a historical discussion and description of non-radiometric dating methods.
The example used here contrasts sharply with the way conventional scientific dating methods are characterized by some critics (for example, refer to discussion in "Common Creationist Criticisms of Mainstream Dating Methods" in the Age of the Earth FAQ and Isochron Dating FAQ).
A common form of criticism is to cite geologically complicated situations where the application of radiometric dating is very challenging.
The simplest situation for a geologist is a "layer cake" succession of sedimentary or extrusive igneous rock units arranged in nearly horizontal layers.
In such a situation, the "principle of superposition" is easily applied, and the strata towards the bottom are older, those towards the top are younger.
Many other indicators are commonly present, including ones that can even tell you the angle of the depositional surface at the time ("geopetal structures"), "assuming" that gravity was "down" at the time, which isn't much of an assumption :-).