What Is Law?


Law is a set of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of debate, but it generally includes the idea of prohibiting certain activities or actions and enforcing those prohibitions with sanctions such as fines or imprisonment. In addition, laws usually recognize and protect fundamental individual rights and freedoms.

A central part of any legal system is the judiciary, which plays a critical role in ensuring that all persons are treated equally before the law. When a majority group infringes upon the rights of a minority, for example, the courts will hear their grievances in court and make sure that all parties are treated fairly.

Law serves many purposes, but four principal ones are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. While laws may be codified and enforceable, they also must be sufficiently flexible to respond to change through interpretation and creative jurisprudence.

Blackstone argued that man’s laws should be consistent with God’s general will and design. Thomas Aquinas viewed this concept as the foundation for natural law, which is distinct from positive law. The latter derives much of its force and dignity from the same principles of right reason and view of human nature and constitution as those from which the science of morality is deduced. Civil law traditions are prevalent in continental Europe and some countries of Africa, while Scotland retains an uncodified form of the civil law.