Law is the set of rules and guidelines that regulates behaviour in a society. It is enforceable by government institutions and private individuals to ensure that society adheres to certain standards. The purpose of laws is to prevent people from harming themselves or each other, and it helps to create a safe and orderly environment. Laws can be created by a collective legislature, which results in statutes, or they can be established through judges’ decisions and rulings, known as case law. Law can also be established through a constitution, written or tacit, which provides a framework for the state and guarantees the rights of its citizens.
Law is different from other social sciences and disciplines because it is primarily normative, meaning it prescribes how people ought to behave. In contrast, empirical science, for example, is descriptive and can be tested and verified by observation and experimentation. This makes it more difficult to determine what a “law” is, and this complexity contributes to the difficulty in explaining the nature of a law and its validity.
The first function of a law is to establish minimum standards. Laws establish what is fair and unfair, what is punishable or not punished, and what is considered acceptable or unacceptable behaviour in a given situation. The goal of this function is to provide a consistent framework of expectations for all members of society, regardless of their background or social status.
Another function of law is to resolve disputes and conflicts. The law can be used to settle arguments about property ownership, for example, or it can be used to ensure that government employees carry out their duties fairly and without bias. The law can even be used to prevent armed conflict between two nations.
Finally, the law can help to promote economic growth and development by creating a level playing field. By setting clear and consistent expectations, the law can allow businesses to operate with confidence that they will not be unfairly treated by their competitors.
Jurists have a variety of views about the purposes and functions of law. Dean Roscoe Pound, for example, argues that law is a form of social engineering to satisfy social needs, rather than an end in itself. Similarly, Gray describes law as a “means to an end,” a tool to balance competing interests. In addition, law must be adapted to changing societies and situations, so it is dynamic and not static.