What Is Law?

Law shapes politics, economics and history in many ways and serves as a mediator between people. It can be created by a group legislature or central body, resulting in statutes; by the executive, resulting in decrees and regulations; or by judges, in common law jurisdictions, where their decisions are binding upon later cases. It can also be based on religious precepts, as in the Jewish Halakha or Islamic Sharia, which survive as the primary legal systems in some religious communities. In addition, there are private law systems, such as contracts and arbitration agreements, that adopt alternative ways of resolving disputes to standard court litigation.

There are a wide range of views as to what constitutes the law, with a variety of books and debates on the subject. However, a general consensus is that the law is a set of rules that governs and regulates social life. Laws govern how citizens interact with each other, how businesses operate, and what is considered acceptable behaviour in society. They are enforced by a judicial system, which is separate from the government. The purpose of the judicial system is to ensure that the law is upheld and to protect individuals’ rights.

As a broad and complex subject, Law can be divided into three categories for convenience although the subjects intertwine and overlap. Labour law covers a tripartite industrial relationship between worker, employer and trade unions, while individual employment laws concern workplace rights, such as job security, health and safety or a minimum wage. Civil procedure and criminal law concern the rules courts must follow as trials and appeals proceed, while evidence law involves which materials are admissible in courts for a case to be built.

The concept of law can be compared to the notion of justice in some philosophical traditions, with philosophers like Aristotle and Hobbes proposing various definitions of justice. One of the key themes in modern philosophy is the dispute between realism and idealism, with the former seeing the world as composed of a number of measurable facts and the latter seeing the world as shaped by the experiences and stories that people tell themselves about it.

Law is a concept that has been described as a “living thing,” “an organism”, and even “a human art”. Its precise nature is difficult to define, with different authors offering a variety of ideas on the subject.

One of the most widely held views is that law exists as a result of the interaction of several factors, including ideas, actions and mental states. This is known as the ‘input-output’ view of law, and there is an ongoing debate about which inputs are appropriate and which outputs are desirable. This debate has echoed throughout the 20th century in movements such as logical empiricism and American legal realism. A less well-known theory, formulated by Hans Kelsen, is the ‘pure theory of law’. This posits that law is a normative science and provides a framework for determining what is right and wrong.