What Is Law?
Law is a set of rules that a society or government develops in order to deal with issues such as crime and business agreements. A legal system also sets standards for governing itself and provides protections for people of all backgrounds. Laws can take the form of written statutes passed by a legislative body or of rules and customs that are recognized and enforced by judicial decision.
The term is used to describe a general set of principles and regulations, or to refer to a specific branch of the law, such as criminal law or corporate law. The word is also commonly used to refer to a group of people who work in the field of law, such as judges or lawyers.
In a law-based society, the primary purposes of laws are to establish standards, maintain order, resolve disputes and protect liberty and rights. Different legal systems serve these goals differently. For example, an authoritarian regime might keep the peace and preserve social stability while oppressing minorities or political opponents. In contrast, a constitutional democracy might strive for a balance between these competing interests by making sure that the rights of individuals are respected.
Most nations have a law-based system of governance. In the United States, for example, the Constitution mandates that all bills and resolutions must be passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president in order to become a law. Likewise, all court decisions must be interpreted in light of existing legislation and judicial precedent. This is known as the principle of stare decisis. This rule is intended to ensure that future cases reach similar results.
A broader view of the meaning of law can be found in a philosophical work such as George Holmes’ “The Laws of Nature and of Morality.” The book argues that natural laws, such as the law of gravity, are fundamental to the universe, and that they govern all matter, including human beings. However, Holmes notes that scientific laws may be subject to change through new research.
Other types of laws include labor law, which regulates working conditions and compensation; environmental law, which covers pollutants and toxic waste; and space law, which addresses the rights of people who live or work in outer space. Tax law involves rules and regulations concerning the amount of money that must be paid to a government for its services, while banking and financial law cover rules and regulations on how banks should invest funds.
Whether a particular set of rules qualifies as law depends on how logically rigorous the rules are and whether they are fair to all people. For example, the mathematical formula Fg = m1 + m2 is not yet a law of nature, but it is a law that can be proven correct through experimentation. By comparison, a judge’s interpretation of the common law might not be tested by a scientific experiment, but it could still be deemed legally binding.