The law is a collection of rules and regulations established by a society that are binding on its members. Its primary functions are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. The field of study that is concerned with these laws is jurisprudence.
The nature of law is the object of much philosophical inquiry. Some philosophers believe that it is an important part of human culture that has certain essential features, such as a normative aspect which gives rise to reasons for action. Others, such as H.L.A. Hart, argue that the normative social practice of law is no more than a function that legal rules serve, and that it is therefore no more essential to law than are other such rules in other cultures.
Still others, such as the American Legal Realists, argue that it is impossible to determine whether or not a law has a normative aspect, and that the question of its nature is really one about metaphysics, and thus should be referred to other philosophical disciplines such as metaethics.
A more promising approach to the nature of law is found in the work of Joseph Raz, who argues that a necessary feature of law is that it is an authoritative social institution which claims to be legitimate. While the specific law which exists in any particular time and place may fail to meet this requirement, it is an essential feature of any law.
It has also been argued that the reason-giving function of law is an overemphasized feature of it. The supposition that legal rules are supposed to provide reasons for people’s behavior is an important function, but it should not be overemphasized relative to the other functions which the law serves in our lives.
Another central issue in jurisprudence is the way in which legal systems are organized and regulated. The basic question is who is in control of a law system, and what power they have to enforce the laws that they make. Inevitably, this is a political question. The fact that the nature of a law system depends on a country’s political landscape is one of the main reasons that some people are always suspicious of it, and that revolts against existing political-legal authority are a recurring feature of many countries. This has led to debates about the proper division of powers between a country’s government and its citizens, and about how to achieve democratic rule, or at least greater “rights” for its citizens. All of these issues require understanding the structure of a nation-state and its political-legal system. These topics are the subject of constitutional, civil, and criminal law. A broad range of other legal topics are covered by tort, contract, family, and international law. Lastly, a variety of controversial moral and theoretical issues are raised by the study of law, such as the nature of justice. These topics are the focus of moral and ethical law.