What Is Law?


Law is the body of rules, regulations and statutes that govern the way a society conducts itself. This includes the laws that govern how citizens can treat each other, their homes and businesses. It also covers the laws that deal with things like crime, marriage and divorce.

A legal system is a government that tries to regulate the way people live their lives by making rules and enforcing them. A country’s law can help to keep the peace, protect against oppression or majoritarian rule, preserve individual rights, prevent discrimination, promote social justice, and provide for orderly social change.

Historically, there have been many different types of legal systems around the world, each with its own unique characteristics and rules. Common characteristics include a system of codified law, judicial enforcement, and a clear separation between the public and private domains of the state.

Law often serves as a means of keeping peace and maintaining the status quo in a nation, but it can also be used to oppress minorities and to create monopolies and other forms of economic power. It can also serve as a tool to suppress political opposition and dissent, which may be necessary for some governments to survive.

In modern times, there have been several attempts to reform the structure and content of law. These efforts were based on the belief that human needs, desires and interests can be better understood through a broader, more ethical and societal perspective than the utilitarian principles traditionally applied to law.

Natural Law & Deontological Principles

Those who view law as natural law, or a normative basis for lawmaking, generally believe that the law is morally neutral, and reflects essentially unchangeable and morally pure laws of nature (or the laws of reason). This belief has been rooted in the natural law tradition, and reemerged in the modern period as a philosophical stance.

This is an alternative to the legal realist stance that holds that law must be governed by internal, or rational, logic derived from the canons of legal interpretation and the categories and language used in legal determinations (e.g., “rights”). Some critics of formalism have argued that extra-legal considerations are typically incorporated into legal determinations in a manner that cannot be fully described by the internal logic of law.

The earliest and most influential ideas in this regard were developed in ancient Greek philosophy, and they reemerged in the works of Thomas Aquinas and John Austin in the 18th century. These ideas were eventually embraced by most Western societies, and have been a central part of the development of law ever since.

There is no one set of universal principles that governs the rule of law, although there are four widely recognized and accepted ones: due process, equality, equity, and the impartiality of the judicial branch. These universal principles are regarded as the cornerstone of a just and humane society, and they have been tested, refined and adapted in consultation with experts worldwide.