The Importance of Law

The law shapes politics, economics, history and society in many ways. It governs the relationships among people, and determines their access to resources. It provides incentives for people to do good and deter them from doing wrong. It also coerces citizens to behave in certain ways. The power to enforce laws is central to the concept of a nation-state. This power can be abused, so political and legal systems differ greatly from one nation to the next.

Legal scholars have a number of views about what the law is. Some take a conceptual approach, seeking to provide an account of some concept of the law. Others reject this methodology and argue that the study of law is a metanormative endeavor, continuous with other philosophical fields such as metaethics.

Several important types of law exist: tort law – which deals with damages resulting from automobile accidents or defamation; criminal law – which covers offenses against a state, including murder and larceny; property law – which outlines ownership rights in land, houses, and cars; administrative law – which concerns public policy decisions made by government agencies; civil law – which is the branch that covers disputes between individuals; and judicial law – which involves the rules that courts must follow as they decide cases.

The law is not the only source of norms in our lives; morality, religion, social conventions, etiquette, and so on shape how we act as well. But the law is perhaps the most pervasive and influential.