What Is Law?
Law is the set of rules and responsibilities created by social or governmental institutions to regulate human behavior. It is both an art and a science, and its precise definition has long been debated.
In general, laws are a code of conduct that must be obeyed by citizens to ensure fair treatment and protection from oppression and abuse. Laws may also serve a number of other purposes, such as keeping the peace, maintaining the status quo, preserving individual rights, promoting social justice, and facilitating orderly social change. Some legal systems are better at serving these purposes than others.
The law may be based on religious precepts, such as the Jewish Halakha and Islamic Shari’ah, or it may be derived from human elaboration, like the Christian canon law that survives in some church communities. A law may also be based on scientific principles, such as the law of conservation of energy or the laws of thermodynamics.
A common feature of a legal system is the existence of a court to interpret and enforce laws, and a legislature to establish the law. The structure of the courts and the legislature can vary from one country to another.
There are many branches of law, each addressing specific aspects of daily life in a particular way. For example, contract law addresses agreements between individuals to exchange goods or services, and the responsibilities that come with such agreements. Property law addresses people’s rights and duties toward their tangible property, such as buildings or cars, while the field of tax law outlines how much people must pay in various forms of taxes and fees.
Some areas of law are more specialized, such as tort law, which deals with damages incurred due to negligence or wrongful act. The law can also encompass a variety of other topics, such as administrative law, which involves how the government manages public resources; family law, which covers marriage and divorce proceedings; and labor law, which includes the rules that govern workers’ wages, benefits, and working conditions.
The laws that are established may be influenced by a variety of factors, including economics, ethics, and philosophy. For example, the laws of supply and demand are often influenced by market forces, while the laws of gravity are dictated by natural principles. Moreover, the law is shaped by society’s values, which may be reflected in political and cultural influences. For more on these influences, see the articles on economics; ethics; politics; and philosophy of law.