What Is the Law and How Is It Defined?


The law is a set of rules established in a community by some authority and applicable to its people. This is usually in the form of legislation or policies recognized and enforced by judicial decision. There are many different theories about the nature of the law and a variety of ways in which it is defined. The following are some of the most common.

Some philosophers define the law in terms of power: that is, as an aggregate set of commands, backed by the threat of sanctions, from a sovereign to men, as his political subjects. Thus, even though a sovereign may create tyrannical laws and then use those laws to oppress his subjects, such laws are still law if they are enforced.

For others, the law is a set of rules that reflect a community’s moral values or beliefs. This school of thought is often called natural law or natural justice. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, for example, advocated that the law should reflect a community’s “natural rights” such as the right to life and liberty.

The law can also refer to a particular body of laws, such as a state’s or nation’s constitution. A codification of a state or nation’s law is sometimes referred to as a statute, legislative law, or law library. Laws can be classified by subject matter, such as civil law (torts) or criminal law. They can be statutory, regulatory, or judicial, or they can involve the law of evidence and civil procedure (how trials and appeals are conducted).

The law is the central institution in any modern society and has multiple roles: establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. Some legal systems are more effective at these tasks than others. For instance, a democratic government will generally be more successful at preserving peace and social stability than a dictatorship. The ability to promote social justice is also an important function of the law. The most important function of the law, however, is to determine who has the power to make and enforce the laws. This requires knowledge of the political landscape, which differs greatly from nation to nation.

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