What is Law?

Law is a system of rules governing human behavior and establishing a framework for society. Its precise definition has been the subject of much debate, but it encompasses a set of principles and guidelines that are enforced by social or governmental institutions to control people’s actions and maintain order. A number of different theories are used to explain what the law is and how it works, and laws are used for many purposes. These include establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights.

The legal study of law can be divided into several areas, such as criminal law; civil law; family law; property law; labour law; and corporate law. Other areas are international law; and constitutional law. Legal studies also involve questions of the legal profession and how to train lawyers. The study of law can also touch on social issues, such as the role of gender in the judiciary and the extent to which law reflects morality.

A common definition of the law is that it is a system of command, backed by threat of sanctions from a sovereign, and that people obey laws because they want to be good citizens. This utilitarian view of the law predominated in Western thought until the 20th century. It has been challenged by naturalists, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who believed that the laws of nature reflected an innate sense of justice and that they are unchanging.

Philosophers have also debated the extent to which laws reflect moral positions and values, and whether they should incorporate ethical considerations. For example, the prohibition against insider trading arguably involves a moral position that is different from that of due process (fundamental fairness and decency in government actions).

A more technical definition of the law is the body of written or unwritten rules that establishes how people must behave. This includes statutes, regulations, and judicial decisions. Statutes are the legislative acts of a government, while regulations are administrative directives. Judicial decisions bind lower courts, and are generally recognized as law by the principle of stare decisis.

Some scholars have attempted to create a science of the law. Hans Kelsen developed a logical theory of the law that describes it as “normative science”. This definition, however, does not describe what must occur; rather it provides rules for what should happen. In contrast, other scholars have argued that the law is more than just a system of rules. It includes a moral framework that guides the decisions made by governments and corporations. The law is an important tool in the fight against corruption and terrorism, as well as for the protection of people’s liberty and property. It has also been used to promote economic growth and stability. Nevertheless, it is difficult to predict the future of the law, given that new technology and changing societies are constantly creating challenges for its application. See also political structure; state, theory of; constitution; and legal philosophy.