What Is Law?


Law is a system of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. The precise definition of law is a matter of longstanding debate, but generally speaking it involves a set of precepts that mandate certain actions, impose certain consequences for those who violate them, and serve to keep order, protect property and people, and ensure fairness and safety in society.

In general, law is not an empirical science; it is a human construct. As such, it is not possible to verify the content of laws through direct observation, and any alleged violation of a law is open to interpretation.

The content of a law is also dependent on human culture and society. For example, the laws of a scientifically modern society are very different from those of an aboriginal culture that does not divide reality into natural and non-natural/human, as does the western notion of the law. The fact that the judicial system is an inherently human institution makes it even more difficult to determine the content of a legal system.

A legal system must be able to deal with the very diverse ways in which humans behave and express their thoughts, feelings, and beliefs. As such, laws must be adapted and expanded to address ever-changing social conditions. This constant adaptation is one of the fundamental functions of a government, and the fact that it is not always successful in doing so is the source of much conflict and instability in the political world.

As the law of a country or region develops, it can be codified into a legal code that defines the laws of that area. In other cases, a governing authority may simply create a body of case law that is applied to the specifics of a situation. For instance, the Supreme Court of the United States has created a body of law that is used as precedent for all federal courts.

Moreover, legal systems are not limited to the boundaries of nation-states; many areas of law are addressed in international law. For instance, there is a wide range of treaties that govern human activities in space, and banking law sets minimum standards for capital investments in the financial sector.

In addition to governing, the law also protects individuals and businesses by providing them with compensation when they are harmed, such as in tort law (car accidents, defamation, etc.). Criminal law punishes people who commit crimes, including murder and larceny. Law is also a framework for social justice, and the study of law can be a useful way to understand social problems and to find ways to make society more equitable.