What Is Law?


Law is the body of rules that governs a nation’s social relations. These rules are created by a controlling authority and enforced through the power of the state. Law shapes politics, economics and history and influences people’s relationships in a variety of ways. Law shapes society in general, for example by settling disputes, regulating business activity and providing security. It also regulates the activities of government, military and police.

There are many different kinds of laws and they cover a wide range of topics:

civil law – a legal system where laws are created by the legislature; contrasted with common law which is based on judge-made precedent.

criminal law – the branch of law that deals with crimes; a prosecutor tries cases on behalf of the government.

employment law – the legal rules that regulate the rights and obligations of employees; a labour union negotiates with employers on behalf of its members.

family law – the legal rules that govern marriage and divorce.

competition law – The rules that prevent businesses from using their market influence to distort prices or restrict consumer choice; derived from Roman decrees against price fixing and English restraint of trade doctrine.

From a philosophical viewpoint, law is complex because it has a normative and prescriptive nature. Normative statements are those that prescribe how people ought to behave, for example by imposing principles of natural justice or the will of a deity. Prescriptive statements are those that describe the consequences of certain actions; Holmes called this an “ontological” definition of law because it relies on a participant’s estimation of probability.

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