What is Law?

What is Law?


Law is a set of rules that a government or society develops to deal with things like crime, business agreements and social relationships. It forms a framework to ensure a peaceful society and, when broken, sanctions can be imposed. The word is also used to refer to the field of legal work and a person’s career in it, for example “Zola wants to be a lawyer one day.”

The exact definition of law has varied over time. In modern times, it has been influenced by Max Weber and others who reshaped thinking about the extension of state power. It also reflects the changing nature of the social world and new challenges to justice that could not have been anticipated by previous writers such as Montesquieu or Locke.

There are many different theories of law and its relationship to the social sciences, ethics and philosophy. A few major ones include utilitarianism, natural law, and jurisprudence. Utilitarians, such as John Austin, believe that the purpose of law is to promote stability and justice for all. This is based on the idea that people will obey laws that they consider fair, even when these laws are unfair.

Natural lawyers, such as Jean Jacques Rousseau, believe that law reflects a fundamental order in nature. This is based on the idea that there are laws of morality that humans must abide by, regardless of their stature or status in a society. This school of thought re-entered the mainstream through the writings of Thomas Aquinas.

Jurisprudence is the discipline that studies how legal systems function and how they can be improved. This is based on the idea that an understanding of how laws are created, applied and enforced is necessary for the development of just societies.

The word law is widely used in daily life, including in the media, to mean a system of rules or guidelines that a group or society establishes to deal with specific issues, for example crime, business transactions and relationships. The word is also often used as a synonym for the legal profession, and is frequently included in popular culture, such as in TV shows or films where lawyers are prominent characters. For more on the legal profession see the articles on legal education and legal training, and for the role of law in society, see constitutional law; criminal law; family law; property law; and tort law. For more on how the law affects people’s lives, see human rights; law and ethics; and legal aid. Also see articles on individual areas of the law such as agency; air law; bankruptcy; carriage of goods; contract; constitutional law; criminal law; family law; international law; and tax law. The term ‘law’ is used in the names of several publications, including the first student edited law review in Norway, Jussens Venner (1952–1983) and the Law Review of the University of Oslo (since 1986). Other important legal journals include Avunuelta oikeus (since 1997) and Norsk omrdet for jurisprudence (since 1998). These journals feature peer-reviewed articles on all aspects of the legal profession.