What Is Law?

Law is the set of rules that form a framework to ensure a peaceful society and that are enforced by mechanisms that can impose sanctions. It serves a variety of purposes, but its principal functions are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. For an explanation of the judicial process see court; for the role of law in war, see military law; and for a discussion of legal training and education see legal profession.

Different systems of law exist worldwide, and their relative importance varies by country. Civil law, found in about 60% of the world’s countries, is based on concepts and categories, generally drawn from Roman and canon law, but modified by local culture. Common law is found in the other 40% of the world’s countries and is derived from a body of written precedent, oral tradition, and creative jurisprudence.

The law is a product of politics, and its relationship to political structures varies from nation to nation. Revolutions against existing political-legal authority occur frequently, and aspirations for democratic rule and greater ‘rights’ for citizens are a recurring theme in politics and law.

The law is also a product of an individual’s rational choice of action in a given situation, based on a prediction about the intersection of his or her personal narrative and a reality shaped by the community narrative. This act of observer-participancy is a fluid process, and as the flow of experience proceeds, an individual’s probability estimates are updated.