Law is a set of rules created by the state that form a framework to ensure a peaceful society. If these laws are broken, sanctions may be imposed. The study of law is important to legal historians, philosophers and economists as it can help us understand how societies function.
Throughout history, different nations have developed their own systems of law. Some are more stable and well-functioning than others. For example, a nation with strong military and police forces can be more effective at maintaining peace and enforcing the rule of law. In contrast, a nation with weak political institutions may be more likely to fail at the core functions of law: maintaining peace and security; preserving individual rights; protecting minorities against majorities; and facilitating orderly social change.
The concept of law is complex, and many books have been written containing differing definitions. A common theme is that law consists of rules that govern the behavior of individuals and groups within a community. These rules may be written or unwritten, formal or informal, or a combination of both. The rules of law may be based on morality or ethics, but most often, they are based on the needs of a society, such as a need to protect property, promote equality and maintain peace.
Some of the most common uses of law include tort law (when an individual or business is harmed), civil rights, criminal law and regulatory laws (governing utilities such as energy, water and telecoms). The discipline also provides a basis for many professions, including lawyers (who defend people charged with crimes), judges (who judge cases at trial) and public defenders (who represent defendants who can’t afford their own attorneys in criminal cases).
From a methodological viewpoint, one of the main features that distinguishes law from other disciplines and sciences is that it contains normative statements—that is, statements that prescribe how people ought to behave or what they must or must not do. This differs from other sciences, such as empirical science (as in the law of gravity) and even social science (as in the law of supply and demand).
The unique characteristics of law make it a subject worthy of serious scholarly investigation. A large number of academic fields are involved in studying law, including legal philosophy, history, economic analysis and sociology. In addition, there are a variety of specialized areas such as canon law, international law and Islamic law. See the articles on legal history and philosophy; legal education; legal training; and legal practice for more information.