What Is Law?


Law is the set of rules that are created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Law has been described as both a science and an art, though its precise definition is a subject of longstanding debate. Law is a central topic of study in many academic fields, including philosophy, sociology, history, economics and political science. It also provides a source of controversy and debate in areas such as jurisprudence, ethics and public policy.

Legal systems differ, but they usually include some combination of legislatures (legislators), executive agencies, courts and judges. In common law countries, judicial decisions are recognized as law on an equal footing with statutes adopted through the legislative process and regulations issued by the executive branch. This is known as the “doctrine of precedent” or stare decisis.

The four principal functions of law are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. The first function, establishing standards, is concerned with how people should behave and what they may or must not demand from others. It also involves establishing what is fair or unfair, right or wrong.

Maintaining order is a major function of law, and it deals with preventing social disorder by punishing those who commit crimes or otherwise break the rules of a society. It can involve such issues as racial or religious discrimination, environmental degradation and workplace safety.

Resolving disputes is a major role of law, and it includes settling disagreements between private parties, as well as between public authorities, such as police or government departments. It can also deal with such issues as divorce and custody of children, and the ownership of property.

Providing protections and rights is another significant function of law, and it can involve such issues as freedom of religion, speech or assembly, the privacy of personal information and intellectual property rights. It can also cover such matters as libel, slander, defamation and false arrest.

There are also laws on competition, taxation, securities, bankruptcy and appellate procedure. These laws are often the product of lengthy discussions and debates in the legislature and the courts, and they are frequently changed and revised.

Some laws are based on general principles, such as the principle of utmost good faith, but many are derived from specific situations or events. For example, immigration law and family law are based on specific circumstances, while competition law is based on specific issues such as price fixing or market dominance. Some laws are controversial, causing debates and arguments over whether they are good or bad for society. For example, the right to bear arms is controversial as it is seen as a potential threat to civil liberties. Some other laws are less controversial, such as the prohibition on murder. These types of laws are based on moral and ethical considerations rather than on a specific rationale. These laws are sometimes called natural or moral law.