The Nature of Law


Law is a system of rules that governs the behaviour of people and their interactions with each other, typically enforced by a controlling authority. It is an important subject of study in the field of jurisprudence and a major source of scholarly inquiry in legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology. Law serves many functions, including establishing standards and maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. Law also helps to regulate the economy by setting the boundaries of what is permissible for companies in the production and distribution of goods and services, such as energy, water and telecommunications.

A key function of law is resolving conflict, which is inevitable in even the most well-ordered societies. When disagreements arise, such as between two property owners over a piece of land, the law provides a way to resolve the dispute peacefully by assigning ownership. Similarly, when someone’s rights are violated, such as when they are discriminated against or attacked, the law provides a mechanism to seek compensation or remedy.

Many different kinds of laws exist, depending on the social context and culture in which they are developed. Some jurisdictions use a common law system, which relies on judgments of judges in cases that are brought to trial, and these decisions are then made into statutes. Other countries, such as Japan, have civil law systems which are based on pre-determined codes that judges must follow when making their decisions.

The development of laws is often influenced by the broader society in which they are embedded, and this influences the philosophical debate about the nature of law. The question of whether or not there is a universal law of human behaviour that can be discovered and interpreted is one such issue.

The existence of a law is also determined by the extent to which it is enforced, and this is related to the extent to which political power can be mustered to create, amend and impose laws. This is a complex area, and revolutions are not uncommon in nation-states where existing political and legal systems do not satisfy the aspirations of a majority of citizens. This reflects the fundamental fact that law is not simply an empirical science, such as a law of gravity, or a social science, such as the law of supply and demand; it is also a normative phenomenon, suggesting how people ought to behave or what they should require from others. This normative element makes law more difficult to verify than would be the case in an empirical science or a social science. The result is that a philosophical debate about the nature of law is often highly parochial, as it tends to be framed with the specific sort of law and legal system in mind of the theorist. This is why the study of law is sometimes called a branch of moral philosophy.