The Basics of Law


Law is a complex area of study. It encompasses a broad range of disciplines, including history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology. It also raises questions of ethics and fairness which are not easily answered.

A Law is a rule of action imposed by an authority commanding what is right and prohibiting what is wrong. It is permanent as to time and uniform as to persons, and it operates to harmonize conflicting groups in society.

From a methodological viewpoint, the laws are unique in that they lack the normative character of empirical sciences (such as the law of gravity or the laws of thermodynamics), and of social science theories (such as the law of demand and supply or the law of reciprocity). This leaves them without the possibility of being verified through experience or rational deliberation.

The laws must thus be based on something else. This something else could be an empirical truth or an unproven hypothesis. It could be sanctioned or unsanctioned, true or false, harmonious or antagonistic, but it must be consistent. This is why law is called the ‘law of reality’.

An additional characteristic of a law is that it has to be consistent as to its application, that is, as a rule it should be applied the same way to all people in all situations. Otherwise it is not really a law. The ‘law of nature’ or ‘natural law’ derives its dignity and force from these principles, and from the fact that they are the same as those upon which morality is deduced from the science of morality.

Legal systems differ vastly from nation to nation. They are generally based on the political power of the people or the government which is able to make and enforce them. This is why most of the time, revolutions and attempts to reform existing legal-political structures are so difficult.

There are three basic types of law: criminal law, civil law and commercial law. Criminal law focuses on conduct that is harmful to social order and in which the guilty party may be punished by imprisonment or fine. Civil law concerns the resolution of lawsuits between individuals or organizations. Commercial law involves a wide variety of business activities and is subject to numerous laws in different jurisdictions.

The subjects of law spread far beyond these core areas, but they are presented here for convenience in a relatively straightforward way, even though they intertwine and overlap. Labour law, for example, involves the tripartite relationship of worker, employer and trade union in industrial relations, while constitutional law and administrative law concern the rules by which courts or tribunals must proceed in their hearings and adjudications of disputes. Evidence law, meanwhile, is the body of rules concerning how evidence should be gathered and tested in court.

Other important areas of the law include property law, contract law and family law. All these areas are extremely complex, and the law in their various applications is a constant source of debate and controversy.

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