What Is Law?

Law is a system of rules and principles that are created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a subject of longstanding debate. Some scholars see it as a science, while others view it as an art of justice. Whatever its nature, law serves several important functions: it establishes standards, maintains order, resolves conflicts, and protects liberties and rights.

The law is comprised of the various legal systems that exist in the world. It includes laws of natural and international law, as well as the legal systems of nations. The term can also refer to a body of rules set out in writing, such as a statute or constitution.

Despite the vast variety of laws that exist, all of them have some elements in common. These include the supremacy of the law, equal application of the law, separation of powers, participation in decision making, transparency, and avoidance of arbitrariness. The law is a complex entity that has evolved over centuries in response to the challenges of changing social environments and disputes about the best form of government. Today it contains both ancient elements, such as the coroners’ courts, and modern ones, such as electronic legal reports and judges using laptop computers.

The law is a fundamental component of every society, and it has many different uses. For example, it can be used to punish criminals, protect consumers, and prevent fraud. In addition, it can serve as a means of communication among citizens.

In the United States, the law is made up of several levels of codified and uncodified rules. The highest level is the federal Constitution, which prescribes the foundation of the nation’s federal government and certain civil liberties. Other parts of the law are Acts of Congress, treaties ratified by the Senate, regulations, and case law issued by the federal judiciary.

For a closer examination of the law in specific fields, see agency; air law; bankruptcy; business law; carriage of goods; contract; constitutional law; family law; foreign law; intellectual property (specifically patents and copyrights); maritime law; medical jurisprudence; property law; and tort. Tort law covers the entire imaginable spectrum of wrongs that humans can inflict on one another, and partially overlaps with crimes against public order that are punished by criminal law.

The concept of law has been viewed in a number of ways by historians, philosophers, and political scientists. For example, Roscoe Pound defined it as “the method by which social wants are met.” While this view may be simplistic, it highlights the central role that the law plays in society. It is a tool for social control that balances the competing pulls of economic interests, moral values, and ethical considerations against each other. It is for this reason that the framers of the Constitution designed a system of government that limits the power that can be exercised by any one person or institution, preventing tyrants from rising to power.