What Is Law?


Law is the set of rules and principles that govern a state or society. In the broadest sense, it encompasses the principles of justice (proper distribution of goods/privileges and burdens within a community) and natural law (precepts that have an intrinsic value as a consequence of their nature and the conditions in which they occur: for example, the laws of gravity). In the most specific form, however, it refers to a legal system or the process of establishing it. Modern legal systems typically include a legislative branch, regulatory agency or independent governing body and a judiciary branch. Lawyers, judges and other judicial personnel are often subject to special regulation.

While a wide range of subjects could be considered as law, some of the most common are:

Criminal law involves offenses against a state or its citizens and provides punishments for violations. Civil law, on the other hand, deals with disputes between individuals or groups of people. Examples of civil issues would be a car accident or defamation of character.

Competition law, also known as antitrust law, regulates businesses that attempt to distort market prices to the disadvantage of consumers. This type of law dates back to Roman decrees against price fixing and the English restraint of trade doctrine. Consumer law includes regulations on unfair contractual terms and clauses, airline baggage policies, and a host of other topics that are meant to protect consumers from undue commercial influence.

International law deals with the relationship of a country to other nations. It may cover everything from treaties to the use of force.

In the general sense, the term “law” refers to a comprehensive system of rules and principles, formally arranged in codes or books and easily accessible to jurists and other interested parties. It is distinguished from other types of law, such as edicts or customary practice, which are more ad hoc.

The laws of a religion are usually described as canon or religious law, while the Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia are explicitly based on religious precepts. Other religions have law that exists as a result of the religious interpretations of their scriptures, such as the Christian canon and the Jewish Talmud and Midrash.

The study of law requires a high degree of intellectual independence and skepticism, in order to avoid dogmatism and bias. This is why law professors and legal writers are often referred to as skeptics. It is also important to recognize that law cannot be empirically verified. Even if some scholars and legal practitioners believe that the laws of the universe are immutable, there are limits to what can be proven scientifically: for instance, law can not dictate behaviours that are unattainable or enforce obligations that would violate fundamental human rights. This is one of the reasons why laws are so controversial.