What is Law?

Law is a set of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate and it has been variously described as a science and as the art of justice.

The law shapes politics, economics and history in many ways, as well as regulating human relationships and providing a mediator between individuals. It raises a variety of complex questions about equality, fairness and justice that can be examined through the lens of legal philosophy, sociology, history, ethics and economic analysis.

Often a contested subject, the study of law extends into virtually every area of life. The core subjects, however, are criminal and civil law, with the former referring to a person’s right to have a fair trial and to be heard in court and the latter relating to the resolution of disputes between people or organizations. Other fields include labour law, family and property law, employment law, constitutional law, administrative law and evidence law.

Because of its complexity, the law is uniquely different from other disciplines. Normative statements in the field lack the empirical validation of, for example, the laws of nature (as with the law of gravity) or social sciences (as with the law of supply and demand). This is because the laws of the law cannot be tested with scientific methods, unlike the measurable results of other natural or man-made forces.

Law is also unique in that it has a prescriptive character and thus imposes how people should behave or not behave. This can be a moral law, such as the law of self-preservation or an ethically based law, such as a commandment or the law of God. It can also be a legal law, such as the laws of the land.

The term is widely used in everyday speech and writing to describe the field of law, whether as a career such as Zola’s or simply as a body of rules that must be obeyed, such as traffic laws. It can even be used in a more humorous sense, such as when someone is said to be killin’ it in an argument. Regardless of how it is used, the law is an integral part of our society and something that everyone should understand, especially its deeper dimensions.