What Is Law?


Law is a set of rules that governs human behaviour. It establishes standards, maintains order, resolves disputes and protects liberties and rights. It also provides a framework for social change, though some legal systems achieve these goals more successfully than others. Law is also a subject of study in many fields, including legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology. Lawyers are the people who study and practice law, which includes advising clients on how to follow the law, representing individuals in court, giving decisions and punishments, and so forth.

The word law comes from a Latin expression meaning “to command, to prohibit” and has been used throughout history to describe both positive and negative commands, prohibitions, or guidelines for behavior. In its positive sense, law defines what is acceptable and discourages what is not. Laws can be imposed by either government or private entities.

Legal systems differ across the world and can be categorized as either civil or criminal. Civil law systems, which are found in about 60% of the world’s nations, use concepts, categories and rules largely derived from Roman law, but may be supplemented or modified by local culture and custom. Criminal law, on the other hand, is based primarily on biblical, historical and natural law, with some influence from the law of war.

In addition to the above, there are a number of other types of laws that exist, such as contract law, which regulates agreements to exchange goods or services; property law, which determines ownership of tangible and intangible assets; and regulatory law, which relates to public services and utilities like water and energy.

From a methodological standpoint, the nature of law is unique because it is not based on empirical evidence and can only be described theoretically, not proven. This means that it is impossible to empirically verify whether or not a law exists, as it does not exist in the same way as a scientific law (such as the law of gravity) or a social science law (such as the law of supply and demand).

It has long been recognized that the concept of law varies greatly between cultures and nations. One example is the clash between Western and indigenous perceptions of law. For instance, the Inuit culture has a concept of law that does not separate reality into natural and human/non-natural/human elements. It is this difference in perceptions that has led to conflicting legal interpretations in cases such as a recent dispute over the proper treatment of an Inuit cultural heritage site. The controversy demonstrates the importance of understanding the concept of law in different contexts. The study of law therefore requires a deep and holistic understanding of the complexities involved.