Law is a set of rules that are created and enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It can be enacted by a government through legislation, decrees and regulations or established by judges through precedent in common law jurisdictions. Law can also be privately created by contractual agreements, such as contracts of sale or marriage. Law is a subject of great interest to philosophers, sociologists and economists because it is a major source of social restrictions and conflict.
From a societal perspective, the purpose of law is to guarantee that the citizens of a state or community adhere to the will of the government, thereby ensuring order and stability in society. It can also be viewed as a tool for the suppression of individuality in favour of conformity. For example, an individual who violates a public safety law, traffic laws or environmental laws can be fined or imprisoned. A law can also be used as a means of control over people by restricting freedoms, such as in the case of censorship or repressive laws and policies.
The precise nature of law is a complex matter, and the concept has become the focus of much debate. The precise definition of a legal rule is often contested, with some seeing it as a scientifically undecidable or metaphysical proposition (such as the law of gravity). A more traditional view sees it as a product of human elaboration. Laws are typically based on precepts and the principle of reciprocity, for example “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”.
It is generally accepted that there is no possibility of empirical verification of the contents of law. This is largely due to the fact that the nature of the law is not necessarily a matter of cause and effect but rather of value judgments (such as whether something should or should not be legal).
Law has a number of different applications, including criminal, civil and administrative. Administrative law includes regulatory laws that govern the running of government services, such as utilities, energy and water companies. Commercial law covers contracts, business and property law. Tax law and banking law are also considered to be a part of law, although some scholars have seen them as distinct from it.
The emergence of laws is a process that takes time, as new issues arise and old ones fade away. For this reason, many legal scholars study the history of law. In particular, it is useful to understand how the concept of law developed through the historical development of Western civilization. It is also important to examine the relationship between law and other aspects of human culture, such as religion, philosophy and ethics. Law is a major topic of research in anthropology, philosophy, jurisprudence and economics. For more on these topics, please see the articles: law, philosophy of; law, history of; judicial process; and jurisprudence, history of. This article was last updated on 19 April 2019. Please note that this is not a complete list of all articles available in this archive.