What Is Law?

Law is the system of rules created by a government that forms a framework to ensure a peaceful society. It is enforced by the state, and sanctions can be imposed on those who break it. Law can also refer to a particular field of study, such as jurisprudence or legal studies. It can also refer to the professions that deal with advising people about the law, representing them in court, or giving decisions and punishments, such as lawyers, judges, etc.

A number of different books and many debates have been devoted to the question of what exactly constitutes law. A common theme is that it is a complex and dynamic concept, which has to be tailored to specific social settings and disputes of government power. The resulting definitions are diverse, and often involve layers of complexity that are not always apparent.

Traditionally, laws are regarded as commandments from an authority figure, such as a monarch or a parliament, that people have a habit of obeying. This view is rooted in the notion of a sovereign, or godlike, figure that has ultimate control over the lives and actions of his subjects. Modern scholars, however, have questioned the extent to which this is an accurate picture of contemporary life. Max Weber and others have reshaped thinking on the nature of law, by pointing out that laws are not solely a product of human will but also reflect economic, cultural, and political influences that are beyond the control of individuals.

In some societies, a large part of the law is codified in religious texts such as the Jewish Halakha or Islamic Sharia. These religious codes can serve as a basis for extensive legal systems, although they may require further human elaboration through interpretative methods such as Qiyas (reasoning by analogy), Ijma (consensus) and precedent.

Other societies, such as the United States and most of the European Union, have adopted a more utilitarian approach to law. According to this view, a good law is one that does the most good, or least harm, to the citizens of the society in which it is implemented. The practical implication of this is that it must be easy for citizens to understand and comply with, and must contain an adequate amount of information regarding the consequences of their actions. In addition, a good law should be relatively stable over time, so that people can plan their actions with reasonable confidence.