What Is Law?


Law is a set of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate. It has been variously described as a science and as the art of justice.

In a nation, laws help to keep the peace, preserve the status quo, protect individual rights, and provide for orderly social change. Some laws are more effective than others at meeting these objectives. In a state or a region, laws can also serve to promote the development of a shared identity and culture, provide for cultural and economic integration, and prevent conflict.

Some of the most complex laws are those governing the military, the police and other forms of government agency. These laws raise profound ethical issues that go well beyond simple notions of good and evil, empirical and social science, or theories of fairness and justice.

The study of law is broadly interdisciplinary, drawing on philosophy, political science, sociology, history, anthropology and economic analysis. It is a core subject for students interested in studying the social and economic context of human societies.

The earliest philosophical reflections on the nature of law date from ancient times, with an emphasis placed on the need to distinguish lawful from despotic regimes and on the importance of the Rule of Law. This heritage continues in the works of medieval thinkers like Sir John Fortescue and the English philosophers of the Enlightenment such as Montesquieu and Locke. It is echoed by modern legal pragmatists who place greater faith in judges’ insight into new situations than on the application of fixed rules or on strained analogies with past precedents.