What Is Law?


Law is a system of rules that creates and enforces a framework to ensure a peaceful society. It is a complex subject that has been the subject of many books and debates. The precise nature of law is not well defined, but it has been generally agreed that it involves rules, sanctions and the role of a government.

Laws can be created and enforced in a number of ways, including: by a legislative body, resulting in statutes; by executive decrees, resulting in decrees and regulations; or through the courts by way of judgments and decisions. Some laws are based on a constitution or other legally binding document, while others are created and enforced by a particular judge in a case. Laws can be both positive and negative, with the former creating rights and responsibilities and the latter limiting people’s freedom.

The main purpose of any legal system is to serve the state’s interests. This can include keeping the peace, maintaining the status quo, preserving individual rights, promoting social justice and providing an orderly framework for social change. Various systems are better at meeting these goals than others. For example, an authoritarian regime might keep the peace but oppress minorities and political opponents. A democracy might promote social justice but may be prone to political instability and corruption.

Some philosophers have argued that laws should be based on principles of morality. One of the most influential theories was developed by Jeremy Bentham, who suggested that laws should be commandments backed by the threat of sanctions from a sovereign to whom people have a habit of obedience. Other philosophers, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, argued that laws are based on natural and unchangeable principles of fairness.

While some areas of law are more specialized, most laws cover a broad range of issues. For instance, medical law focuses on the rights and responsibilities of patients and doctors. Family law includes marriage and divorce proceedings, child custody and property rights. Intellectual property law covers copyright, patent and trademarks. Employment law concerns remuneration and conditions for workers. Commercial law relates to contracts and the sale of goods and services.

Defining “law” in any given situation requires an investigation of all available legal sources, including statutes, judgments and precedents. Often a judge will decide how to interpret the facts of a case by examining earlier cases that have similar circumstances. This is known as judicial precedence. A judge’s rulings will also be influenced by their own personal views, biases and prejudices, as well as the social and cultural context in which they work. The process of determining what the law is can take several stages, with rulings from higher courts or legislatures carrying more weight than those from lower courts.