What Is a Law?

A law is a rule, usually made by a government, that citizens must obey. It is enforced by punishment, such as fines or incarceration, if people break it. Some laws are specific, such as the one against murder, while others are general, such as the idea that it is wrong to steal. A law can also be a group of rules, such as the entire set of laws for a country or region. It can also be a system of rules, such as the United States Code, which is divided into very broad subject areas called titles, such as Title 18 – Crimes and Criminal Procedure or Title 7 – Agriculture.

The word “law” is also used to describe the profession of a lawyer or a judge. It is sometimes used to describe all the systems of laws that a country has, such as “The United States has a complicated legal system”.

In science, a law is an indisputable fact about the way things work in a certain circumstance. For example, it is a law that gravity causes objects to fall down. Other examples of laws are the speed limit on a highway, the age of consent for marriage, and the rules governing the conduct of elections.

Some people argue that a society cannot function without a system of laws to guide behavior and to protect citizens from harm. These theories of law often assume that coercion is an essential feature of a society and are sometimes described as the “law of nature” or the “law of the jungle.” This theory of law is contrasted with the view that the goal of a society is not to create a system of laws but to establish values and morals.

Other theorists have developed more sophisticated and nuanced views of what law is. Max Weber, for example, reshaped thinking about the role of state power by arguing that it is not only possible but necessary for a government to extend its powers in ways that previous writers such as Montesquieu and Locke could not have foreseen.

A common view is that there are two types of laws: procedural and substantive. Procedural laws establish the procedures that courts must follow when hearing cases, such as the rules for giving a fair trial or evidence law. Substantive laws, on the other hand, are the rights and duties of individuals within a society. These are usually established through a combination of legislative statutes and court decisions.

Some religious communities have their own law codes based on their scriptures and traditions. For example, Jewish Halakha and Islamic Shari’a provide comprehensive legal systems. Other religions, including Christianity, have their own canon law. However, these do not typically provide extensive and detailed legal systems. Instead, these religions rely on further human elaboration through interpretation, Qiyas (reasoning by analogy), and Ijma (consensus) to develop more thorough law systems.