What is Law?


The law is a set of rules that form a framework to ensure a peaceful society. It is enforced by a controlling authority. The word is derived from the Latin lege, meaning ‘rule’. There are a variety of opinions about what the law should be.

It is impossible to give a single definition of law, because it is dependent on many factors that differ from one country or community to another. However, it is possible to describe some of the main ideas about law.

Legal scholars have proposed a number of theories about the nature of the law. Hans Kelsen created the ‘pure theory of law’, which is that the law is a normative science and that the content of laws is determined by social practices. This includes the fact that laws are interpreted in a particular way by different people and that the interpretations can influence how the law is applied in practice.

The law shapes politics, economics, history and society in a wide range of ways. For example, tort law enables victims to recover compensation from people who harm them, and criminal law punishes those who break the rules of the community. The law also provides the framework for relations between individuals, whether they are disputes about contracts or personal injuries. Law covers a huge range of topics, from the relationships between governments and international organisations to human rights and family law. Oxford Reference has more than 34,000 concise and in-depth definitions and specialist encyclopedic entries across this broad area of study.