What Is Law?


Law is the system of rules that a society or community recognizes as regulating its members’ actions. Its main purposes are to establish standards, maintain order, resolve disputes and protect liberties and rights.

The term “law” is derived from the Latin word lege, meaning a rule or regulation (as opposed to a precept), and can mean both an imposition by an authority and an obligation of obedience. The word also means something that has been enacted by legislative action, usually a law made by a legislature.

There are many different kinds of laws, depending on the country and culture, but most have a common theme. These include contracts, property and immigration laws, as well as civil procedure and criminal law.

Contracts are agreements between people to exchange goods, services or other things of value. They can be simple or complex, and the elements that must be fulfilled in order for a legal agreement to be valid vary from state to state.

Property law governs the rights and duties of individuals toward their real property-land, buildings or other objects, as well as to intangible properties such as bank accounts and stock shares. There are several different types of property law: land law, company law, intellectual property law and trusts and estates.

Historically, the idea of rights has influenced both the theory of law and the practice of law in a variety of ways. It has been interpreted as either a natural right–a principle that does not depend on social convention or recognition, or as deontological, that eschews consideration of utility and policy.

Some argue that rights justify correlative duties, a position known as Hohfeldian correlativity. However, this idea has been criticized as unreliable and may be counterproductive, since it can lead to an indeterminate normative priority between right- and duty-based reasons for legal determinations.

In some systems, like those of Jewish law or the United States, justification involves a combination of rights and duties. In other systems, however, rights and duties are distinctly separate.

For example, in some countries, a right to property can be justified by a duty to protect it against infringement by another person. In others, such as the United Kingdom and the United States, the same right can be justified by a duty not to discriminate on the basis of race or national origin.

The validity of a right typically turns on whether or not the courts and/or the legislature recognize it, which can be a complex matter. In the UK, the “doctrine of stare decisis” means that a court’s decision is considered to be law on equal footing with statutes and regulations enacted through the legislative process.

Some scholars have suggested that the notion of legal rights may be too narrow, especially in the United States. Some have argued that the concept of legal rights is not sufficient to explain the behavior of people, and should be supplemented by other factors, such as sociocultural norms, in order to give a more realistic view of human conduct.

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