What is Law?


Law is a body of rules, created and enforced by a sovereign, that governs the conduct of individuals and groups. It shapes politics, economics, history and society in a variety of ways and serves as a mediator of relations between people. There are many different views on what the law is and how it should be interpreted, written and enforced. It is not possible to give a definitive legal definition, as each country has its own legal system and the laws vary between cultures. However, there are some general themes that run through most legal systems.

Many scholars have developed various theories of what the law is, and they differ in their conclusions. Hans Kelsen’s ‘pure theory of law’ suggests that the law does not attempt to describe what must occur but simply defines certain rules for citizens to follow. This view sees the law as a ‘normative science’ that has a direct impact on everyday life.

Other scholars have taken a more sociological view of the law, suggesting that it is a means of social control and coercion. These ideas are called ‘legal positivism’. This posits that the law is a set of rules that serves a social want and that the law has no moral content, which is disputed by some.

The law can be divided into a number of different areas, with some common areas such as contracts, property, torts and criminal law. Contract law covers agreements that people make to exchange goods or services, from hiring a car to transferring money on a bank account. Tort law deals with accidents that cause injury to a person or their property, such as an automobile accident or defamation of character. Property law deals with people’s rights and duties to their tangible assets, from houses to shares of stock.

Some laws are explicitly based on religious precepts, such as the Jewish Halakha and Islamic Sharia. These are usually supplemented by further human elaboration using interpretative methods such as Qiyas, Ijma and precedent.

Other laws are a result of societal pressures, such as public safety or environmental protection. These areas of law are often regulated by governments, and private companies may take on management of some formerly public services such as water, electricity or gas. There are also legal principles that apply to the law itself, such as separation of powers and procedural fairness in courts. These are often considered to be core components of the rule of law.