The Concept of Law

Law is a set of rules developed by government or society over a territory in order to deal with crime, business, property, relationships and many other issues. It is enforced through legal institutions, and a variety of professions are involved with interpreting the law and advising clients on their rights and obligations. It also shapes politics, history and economics in various ways.

The idea of law is a fundamental feature of all societies, and there are numerous views on how it should be defined. John Austin’s definition states that law is “the aggregate of commands, backed by the threat of sanctions, from a sovereign to men, as political subjects.” Jean-Jacques Rousseau used the term natural law to mean universally binding moral principles. Other philosophers have argued for an idea of law that is based on human nature, or the common good.

A common element of any definition of law is that it should channel the exercise of power in a positive way. It should protect against anarchy, the Hobbesian war of all against all, and guarantee that people can predict the legal consequences of their actions. In addition, it should be reasonably stable, in order to allow for planning and coordination over time.

In practice, the definition of law is influenced by the system of government, whether a constitutional monarchy, an electoral democracy or some other form. Law should be clear and publicized, fair and easily accessible, and it should reflect the interests and characteristics of the people who live under it. It should also ensure adherence to international human rights standards, and it should prevent arbitrariness, both in the making and application of laws.

There are many different types of law, and these vary from country to country. For example, labor law involves the tripartite industrial relationship between employee, employer and trade union; civil procedure concerns the rules that courts must follow in a trial or appeal; and evidence law defines what can be presented as proof of a particular case. The study of law is usually done through the legal professions, which are considered to be a part of the judicial branch of government.

For further discussion of law in relation to political structures, see constitution; ideology; political party; and politics, philosophy of; for an examination of social restrictions and their enforcement, see censorship; crime and punishment; and police. The concept of law is a central one in the philosophy of science, where it is commonly seen as an essential tool for scientific inquiry. Law is also a major area of research in the social sciences, particularly in sociology and philosophy of science. It has a long tradition of academic debate and criticism, and its study is often a central feature of a university’s curriculum. It is an important topic in philosophy, history and literature as well. For a broader survey of the history of the law, see law as historical process; comparative law; and canon law.

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