What is Law?


Law is the body of rules that are enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior and ensure that society adheres to agreed upon values. These rules may be made collectively by a legislature resulting in statutes, decrees or regulations, or established by judges through precedent – a process known as common law. Private individuals can also create legally binding contracts.

The precise definition of law has been a matter of longstanding debate. It has been variously described as a science and as the art of justice. A core feature of law is its normative nature: it says how people ought to behave or not behave; what they may or must require from other people; and what rights, duties and responsibilities they have towards tangible property. This makes it distinctive from other fields of study, which are primarily descriptive (such as empirical or social sciences) or causal (as in physics or biology).

Another important feature of law is its immanent and probabilistic character: there is no means by which the truth of normative statements in law can be verified, unlike in a mathematical science like gravity or a social scientific theory such as a market model. This feature of law makes it a uniquely complex subject, especially when compared with other social sciences.

Consequently, law studies often explore deeper dimensions to this special framework, such as the legal philosophy that underpins it; the role of law in promoting human dignity; the relationships between laws and power, especially military, police and bureaucratic powers; and other issues related to accountability. For articles that explore these subjects in more detail, see legal philosophy; legal ethics; and legal training.