What is Law?


Law is the set of rules a society or government develops to deal with things like crime, business agreements, and social relationships. It can also refer to the system of courts and professionals who work within it.

In a political context, laws may be used to (1) keep the peace and maintain the status quo, (2) protect minorities against majorities, (3) promote social justice, or (4) regulate the expansion of the state (e.g., under colonialism by European nations). Historically, some laws have had negative effects on society, such as oppression of minorities or the loss of freedoms in countries governed by authoritarian regimes.

The study of law can be divided into three broad categories: (1) substantive law, which deals with a subject’s content; (2) administrative law, dealing with the processes of a legal system; and (3) doctrinal law, which analyzes the nature of legal ideas, principles and doctrines. The latter two topics are more abstract and philosophical in nature, while the former involves the practical application of substantive law to real world issues.

Substantive law covers such subjects as labour law, criminal procedure and evidence law. Labour law studies the tripartite industrial relationship between worker, employer and trade union and involves a range of rights such as health and safety and the right to strike. Criminal procedure concerns the process of a trial and appeals, including a person’s right to a fair hearing. Evidence law covers what is admissible as evidence in court and what rules are followed in collecting it. Administrative law includes laws that concern how a country’s economy works, such as taxation, banking and financial regulation, and corporate and environmental regulation. In the field of environmental law, for example, governments regulate the manufacture and sale of chemicals that are dangerous to the environment.

The underlying philosophy of law is complex and differs from other sciences and disciplines in several ways. One of the most significant differences is that normative statements in law are of a prescriptive rather than descriptive nature, indicating how people ought to behave or what they must or must not do, whereas in other sciences and disciplines, such as empirical science (as with the law of gravity) or social science (as with the principle of equity), normative statements are of a descriptive and causal character. In addition, the nature of legal thought makes law unique as it is based on ideas and notions that cannot be tested experimentally, unlike other sciences. This leads to a great deal of dispute over whether laws are truly grounded in a rationalist and scientific method.

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