What Is Law?


Law is a set of rules that are created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate, and it has been variously described as a science and as the art of justice. It is generally regarded as being normative, in that it provides guidance to people about what they ought to do. It is also sometimes viewed as being coercive, in that it requires people to obey it or face sanctions. However, many philosophers have argued that the normative significance of law does not lie in its coercive aspect, and that this view misunderstands the nature of law.

Law covers a wide range of topics, from the most basic legal definitions to more specific fields such as criminal or business laws. The term may also refer to the practice of law, including the training and ethics involved in this field. Laws that govern how people interact with one another are called civil laws, and those that govern the activities of a particular government or community are called constitutional or political law. There are even laws that apply to people outside of a country, such as international law.

A key function of law is its ability to provide a framework for peaceful society, and to ensure that people are treated fairly. This is achieved through mechanisms that are designed to prevent crime, and through punishing those who break these rules. This is often seen as a fundamental component of democracy, although it can be difficult to balance the rights of individuals with the need to protect a society from harm.

The earliest known use of the word “law” is in Middle English, in the phrase “lawes and formes”. It can be traced back to the Latin noun lege (“rule”), which itself comes from the verb lagare (to lay down or impose). Other languages that have similar words are Faroese log, Icelandic log, Norwegian lov, and Swedish lag.

There are several major functions that law serves, and these are discussed in a number of articles. These include the establishing of standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. The relationship of law to politics is also explored, as is the question of whether or not a state should have power to make laws and, if so, how it should exercise that power.

The Oxford Dictionary of Law offers a comprehensive and authoritative account of this broad subject area, covering everything from criminal and administrative law to the more theoretical aspects of legal philosophy. It includes more than 34,000 concise definitions and in-depth, specialist encyclopedic entries. Written by experts for researchers at every level, this dictionary is essential reading for anyone interested in this field. It features thumb cuts for quick reference, a pronunciation guide, Latin maxims with index, and an extensive bibliography. It has been the gold standard for the language of law for more than a century, and is the most trusted and widely cited law book in the world.