What Is Law?


Law is a system of rules that governs the behavior and relationships among people. It can be enforced by a collective legislature, resulting in statutes, or by the executive through decrees and regulations, or by judges through precedent, usually in common law jurisdictions. Private individuals can also create legally binding contracts and arbitration agreements. Law is a key component of most societies and provides a rich source of scholarly inquiry in legal history, philosophy, economic analysis, sociology, and political science.

The principal purposes of law are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and property. It is possible that the law may have a few other secondary functions, such as providing a common framework for evaluating alternatives and facilitating communication.

There are many different types of laws. Contract law regulates agreements to exchange goods and services; tax law sets minimum standards for the amounts of taxes owed; banking law sets rules about best practice in financial investment; and criminal law punishes offences against a state, nation or community. Family, immigration, and constitutional law deal with people’s relationships with each other; intellectual property law defines people’s rights to their creative work; and tort law provides compensation if people or their property is harmed, whether in car accidents or defamation.

Some cultures have a concept of law that is not based on modern scientific principles, but rather on the natural or human world.8 This includes some aboriginal communities whose perception of reality is not divided into a non-natural/human and a natural/human realm, and others such as the Inuit people who have an indigenous concept of law that promotes cooperation between humans rather than competition.

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