What Is Law?

The law shapes politics, economics, history and society in many different ways and serves as a mediator of relations between people. It is a complex and contested concept, and a study of it requires an understanding of the broader contexts in which it operates. The most fundamental definition of law is that it is “a set of rules and principles regulating human relationships, often developed through social or historical pressures, with the authority to enforce them”.

The term law can be applied to a variety of legal concepts and institutions, from criminal law to civil rights. Generally, law refers to the rules and principles that a state or nation establishes for its citizens. It can also refer to the department of knowledge concerned with these rules; the branch of the social sciences that studies them is called jurisprudence.

It is important to note that there is no possibility of empirical verification of the contents of law – it exists only in the minds of humans, and can thus be defined in any way that individuals choose. Some may regard it as morally right or wrong, while others will reject the idea that laws can contain precepts which are deemed to be beyond their reach in any particular era or circumstance.

The most common form of law is a civil law system, found in about 60% of the world’s countries. These are based on concepts and categories derived from Roman law and supplemented by cultural and customary law. They are well organized systems that favor cooperation, order and predictability. Civil codes rely on a logical taxonomy and include general clauses that allow for flexibility and adaptation.

Other forms of law include administrative, constitutional, and common law. Administrative law involves regulations of public affairs such as taxation, zoning and environmental protection. Constitutional law lays out the foundations of a government, including how it is formed and how it functions. Common law consists of case law, which relates to specific cases and demonstrates how judges have interpreted the meaning of the statutes they have interpreted.

In the United States, the law is codified in a series of volumes known as the United States Code. This is a compilation of most public laws currently in force, organized by subject matter into 50 titles. It includes cross-references for ease of use.

Civil rights laws are a broad category of laws which deal with the rights and liberties of individual citizens. Examples of civil rights include the freedom of religion, speech and assembly, protections against discrimination, and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure. Criminal laws, on the other hand, deal with offenses against a community as a whole. This can include anything from traffic violations to murder. Criminal laws are governed by federal, state, and local governments. They are typically enforced by a police force. A large part of the law is informed by the philosophy of natural law. A natural law is a principle that a particular process or phenomenon will always produce a certain result.