What Is Law?


Law is the system of rules created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It has four principal functions: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. It shapes politics, economics, history and society in many ways.

Laws may be enacted by the state or by private individuals. In the case of a state, laws are usually devised by a legislative body, leading to statutes and regulations. Laws may also be established by the executive through decrees and orders, or they may be created by judges through precedent, as in a common law jurisdiction. Private laws can also be made by contracts or other agreements that are binding on parties, and they can be enforced through a court of law or arbitration tribunal.

Unlike empirical scientific statements (such as the law of gravity) or social science theories (such as the law of supply and demand), normative statements in law have a prescriptive, rather than descriptive, character. They tell people how they ought to behave, what they may require of each other, and what they must do if they want to retain their rights or obtain the fruits of their labours. In addition, the law imposes punishments to punish those who violate its provisions and protects against unfair competition.

Because of its nature, law cannot be empirically verified and is dependent on the shape of the physical world and the limitations inherent in it. In contrast, statements in science or social sciences have the potential to be verified through experimentation. This makes it difficult to discuss whether a particular statement should or should not be included in the law, or how it should be applied.

In the context of human societies, the law can be broken, amended or disregarded as people strive to achieve different goals. The law is essentially an instrument of power in human affairs and its application can vary greatly from one country to the next, with varying levels of stability and democracy. A lack of political freedom is a major cause of revolutions in many parts of the world and a desire for democracy, or more rights for citizens, is a common theme across all societies.

The law can be applied in a variety of fields, from criminal prosecutions to property ownership. For example, contract law governs how people exchange goods or services and a wide range of businesses operate in accordance with the principles of this branch of law. The principle of property law relates to people’s rights and duties toward their tangible assets, such as land or buildings, and intangible assets such as bank accounts and shares of stock.