What Is Law?


Law is the set of rules governing human conduct in a society. It is the foundation of a legal system, and is the basis for social stability and justice. Law is often the focus of controversy and debate.

Law can refer to the collection of statutes, regulations and other legal provisions, the body of customs and policies recognized and enforced by judicial decision or the set of principles and guidelines established by a community for its members, whether enforceable as law or not. It also refers to the department of knowledge concerned with these laws; jurisprudence.

The laws of a nation may serve many purposes: keeping the peace, maintaining the status quo, respecting individual rights and property, protecting minorities against majorities, and providing for orderly social change. However, some legal systems serve these goals better than others. A government that oppresses its citizens, for example, does not keep the peace or maintain the status quo.

Moreover, laws that are not respected or followed lead to discontent and rebellion, and those that are not upheld create injustice and inequality. Laws must be logically and ethically justified to have the authority they impose. This makes it difficult to prove laws empirically, as would be the case for scientific laws such as a law of gravity or social sciences such as a law of demand and supply.

In addition, law has a normative character that distinguishes it from other scientific and philosophical concepts. The idea that people ought to do or not do something is a normative statement, and is a different concept than the descriptive or causal statements in empirical science (such as a law of gravity) or social science (such as a law of social inequality).

Learning Law involves acquiring a distinctive language that differs from the languages used in other disciplines. Like learning a new language, it takes time to master the vocabulary, grammar and subtleties of law. Law students are able to acquire an affinity for the subject by reading different writers and by exploring the full range of intellectual disciplines implicated in law.

The study of law is a multidisciplinary endeavor that encompasses philosophy, sociology, economic analysis, political science and history. It is a subject that raises complex issues of equality and fairness, as well as questions about the nature of legal authority that modern writers such as Max Weber have reshaped thinking on. This new perspective is based on the notion that laws are constructed by human communities and that they should reflect their values and beliefs. The question of whether this approach can be applied to the legal system in practice remains open to scholarly investigation.