The Basics of Law


Law is a body of rules that governs behavior in a society. These rules may be imposed by a sovereign government or by private individuals. They can be derived from social custom, enacted by legislature, decreed by executive authority in the form of orders and regulations, or established by judges through their decisions in common law jurisdictions. The principal functions of law are to ensure that an individual adheres to the will of the state and protects the rights of others. This may be achieved through the granting of privileges and disabilities, the imposition of fines and penalties, or the use of military force to enforce order. The existence of law is dependent on the political landscape, which differs widely from country to country. There are, however, recurrent themes in the politics of law, such as an aspiration for democracy or greater “rights” for citizens, and revolts against existing political-legal authorities.

Laws may be either positive, in the sense of commanding what is right, or negative, in the sense of prohibiting what is wrong: a law is a rule that forbids something or requires it, whether in a specific circumstance or in general. A legal system may also include a mixture of both positive and negative laws. A good legal system is designed to have a clear expression of the laws, so that remedies can be quickly determined. It also should allow the judiciary to adapt rules to new circumstances by way of interpretation and creative jurisprudence.

The field of law is vast and diverse, covering almost every aspect of human activity in some form. It is commonly broken down into three main areas, although each subject has many sub-disciplines. Employment law, for example, covers the regulation of the relationship between workers, employers and trade unions. Property law defines people’s rights and duties towards tangible property, such as houses or cars, as well as intangible assets, such as bank accounts and shares of stock. Criminal law governs crime, and civil law addresses disputes between individual citizens.

The study of law is an extremely complex endeavor, as it includes many aspects of history and culture. For instance, Roman law was heavily influenced by Greek philosophy and underwent major codification during the Middle Ages, while the legal maxims of the 11th century developed into the modern English common law. It is important to remember that laws are not objective, as they can only be formulated by human beings and are therefore essentially subjective. Nonetheless, a skeptic could argue that even something that is universally accepted as a fact, such as the law of gravity, is not truly objective, because it is dependent on the shape of the physical world and its limitations. The same can be said for other natural laws, such as the law of the land. This is the reason why it is considered improper to separate a positive law from natural jurisprudence: they derive from the same sources.

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