Law is a system of rules that establishes a framework for social life and ensures a safe society. It can also be used to punish wrongdoings. The concept of law is highly contested and subject to many different interpretations. Law can be divided into several categories, including criminal laws, administrative laws and civil rights laws. Some laws are made by parliaments while others are made by judges or courts. The purpose of law is to protect people from harmful actions, to make sure that people act responsibly and fairly, to maintain social stability, and to ensure equality.
In the past, philosophers have debated the nature of law for a variety of reasons. Some have been concerned with the normativity of law; whether it differs from similar normative domains such as morality, religion and social conventions, and to what extent it should be understood to claim legitimate authority. Others have focused on the nature of the law as a coercive institution and its role in imposing sanctions. This controversy was fueled by the fact that, until recently, the law primarily functioned through coercion, and it has been claimed that this is an essential feature of law that distinguishes it from other institutions. However, more recent legal positivists have tended to deny this, arguing that the law’s role in imposing sanctions is no longer pivotal for fulfilling its social functions.
It is also important to note that, unlike other academic disciplines that investigate abstract objects like numbers or sets of concepts (such as mathematics or logic), philosophy of law deals with social phenomena that are heavily dependent on human beliefs and attitudes. As a result, it is doubtful that a discipline as complex and fluid as law can be investigated as thoroughly as an abstract object would allow.
A central question is how to define the law. The answer to this question largely depends on the purpose of philosophy of law, which itself is highly controversial. Some philosophers see a key goal of philosophy of law as developing a widely shared concept of the law. This is a worthy and challenging task, but it is not clear that the success of such an endeavor will imply that the concept of the law is all-things-considered good or morally justified.
A further challenge comes from the fact that evaluative judgments play an important role in the practice of law and in the development of legal theory. It is often argued that legal philosophy must include thick evaluative claims, such as the notion that the law ought to be fair or should be seen as morally right. This line of argument has, however, been criticized for the same reason as the argument from the coercive aspect of the law: it is not obvious that attributing any sort of function to something necessarily involves believing that it is all-things-considered or morally right. Moreover, the notion that legal concepts should be interpreted to determine their meaning does not seem to provide an adequate explanation for why people in different cultures or societies have widely different concepts of the law.