What Is Law?


Law is the body of rules that govern a society, often enforced by penalties from a controlling authority. Law defines what is allowed and not allowed, provides a way to resolve conflicts and ensures that individual freedoms are respected. The term is sometimes used to refer to the legal profession, which involves interpreting and applying laws to specific situations. The practice of law encompasses a broad range of subjects, from tort law and property law to administrative law and family law. Law is also a field of study that can be applied to societal issues such as human rights, land reform and social justice.

The most basic definition of law relates to the act of imposing control through a controlling authority. This is the primary function of a system of law, whether it is local customs or international treaties. This control may be achieved through various means, including physical force or sanctions. The control of law also serves to prevent chaos and maintain order, to protect property, and to promote social change in a controlled manner.

A variety of theories exist about the nature and purpose of law. These include utilitarian theories, which emphasize the monetary and social benefits of law, as well as natural laws, which assert that certain principles are innately moral. Another theory, proposed by Hans Kelsen, is the pure theory of law, which describes law as a method of social engineering.

Different societies have differing legal systems. For example, the United States uses a common law system that relies on judicial decisions in legal disputes. Other countries use a civil law system that is based on codes that judges must follow when making decisions. The laws of a specific region or country also vary, as do the laws within each legal system.

Regardless of the type of law, each legal system should have certain characteristics, such as a rule of equality and access to justice. A legal system should also be transparent and public, with a well-defined set of procedures for resolving conflicts. In addition, it should reflect the makeup of the population it is serving and promote fair treatment.

The law is a vast field of study, encompassing everything from criminal and civil laws to the regulations for aircraft carriers. Moreover, law is closely linked to the biosciences, as it is involved in such areas as medical jurisprudence and genetics. For more information about this subject, see the articles on legal history; legal profession; legal education; and law and science. This article does not constitute professional legal advice, and the author should be contacted for any specific questions regarding individual situations. The author is not responsible for any consequences arising from reliance on this information. For legal advice, please consult a licensed attorney. Legal topics discussed in this article are for general information only and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Law Dictionary.