What Is Law?


The law is the system of rules that a society or community develops in order to deal with things like crime, business agreements and social relationships. The precise nature of law is a subject of long-standing debate.

Essentially, law is a set of rules that society creates and enforces in order to ensure the safety and well-being of its members. It can be imposed by a group legislature, resulting in statutes; established by the executive through decrees and regulations; or determined by judges through legal precedent, as in common law jurisdictions. Laws can also be established by private individuals, for example in the form of contracts and arbitration agreements.

Law is a vast field, and different types of law cover many aspects of life. For example, tort law helps people claim compensation when they are injured or their property is damaged. International law covers the rules that countries must abide by, for example in areas such as trade or military action. Banking law sets minimum standards for banks to hold and rules about how they must invest funds. Property law includes rights that people have over things they have created, such as music and literature, protected by a kind of law called copyright; or trademarks protecting names used to identify businesses, regulated by a kind of law known as intellectual property law.

The study of law encompasses a wide range of fields, including philosophy, history and sociology. Philosophers such as Jeremy Bentham have used utilitarian theories to argue that law reflects a natural order of things, while Jean-Jacques Rousseau has argued that there are innate moral laws that all humans can understand.