What Is Law?


The law (from the Greek nomos) refers to a set of social or governmental rules that regulate human conduct and guarantee specific rights and freedoms. These rules can be created by a collective legislative process, resulting in statutes, or by the executive through decrees and regulations, or established through precedent by judges, normally in common law jurisdictions. Private individuals may also create their own laws through contractual agreements. The discipline of Law studies these rules, as well as philosophical claims about the nature of legal reality.

The complexity of law from a methodological viewpoint arises from its combination of a normative, prescriptive dimension with empirical and causal statements that cannot be disentangled from factual observations as one might find in natural sciences (such as the law of gravity) or in social science (like the law of supply and demand). Furthermore, law is a highly contextual concept, and philosophical speculation about the nature of law must always be undertaken with a particular sort of legal system and culture in mind.

The law shapes politics, economics, history and society in many different ways, and it is essential to any modern society. In addition to defining and controlling the behaviour of people, it is an important tool for resolving conflict and promoting prosperity. Whether in the form of contract law that governs an exchange of goods or services, tort law that provides compensation for loss of life or property, criminal law that punishes violations of the peace or administrative law that determines which materials are admissible in court, the law permeates every aspect of modern society.