What Is Law?


Law is a set of rules that social institutions enforce to regulate human behaviour. It influences politics, economics, and society in many ways. It also acts as a mediator of interpersonal relations and a tool for harmonizing conflicting groups. The formation of laws, the defence of rights, and the election of political representatives are all examples of legal actions.

Jeremy Bentham defined law as a science which lays down norms and standards in a specified situation and makes these binding through the sanction of the state. This definition of law has been criticized as being too narrow and as not sufficiently distinguishing between law and other forms of social control. Others have described law as a system of rules and regulations governing human behaviour or as the principles that govern the judicial system.

The nature of law is a matter of considerable debate. One view is that it is a natural process in which a specific event or thing always leads to a particular result. Another view is that it is a collection of ethical and moral values which have been codified into a system of rules by social or governmental institutions. A third view is that the precise meaning of law has been a matter of continuous dispute and that it is simply a matter of judging whether an act is lawful or not.

A key issue is the nature of the authority that gives legitimacy to law. Some people believe that law is a creation of the governmental or social institution and that this body has the exclusive right to make laws and to enforce them. Others, however, take a more holistic approach to the meaning of law and see it as an expression of the cultural and social values of a community.

Blackstone’s definition of law included the notion that judges were “the depositories of the law and the living oracles, bound by oath to decide according to it” and that a decision was not merely law but also “evidence of what is the law.” This was a view shared by Sir Edward Coke and the English philosopher Thomas Aquinas.

Legal scholars have classified the sources of law into two types: material and formal. Material sources provide the content or matter of law while formal sources give legal validity or authority to it. Legal scholars have also categorized the content of law into various levels of importance. Claims and privileges are first-order norms that determine what right-holders ought to do (claim-right) or may do (privilege-right). Powers and immunities are second-order norms that determine whether or not people are able to act (power-right) or cannot act (immunity-right).

The word ‘law’ is often used as a synonym for the legal system and professions which deal with it such as lawyers, judges, and prison guards. It can also be applied more generally to any system of rules that are enforced through a judicial or administrative tribunal. The term is also frequently used to describe the laws of a country or region.

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