What is Law?


Law is the system of rules that a society develops to deal with issues such as crime, business agreements and social relationships. It can also be used to refer to the people who work in this field.

The study of Law is very complex from a methodological viewpoint, involving elements from the fields of philosophy (e.g. the problem of normative statements), empirical science (as the law of gravity) and even social sciences (such as the laws of demand and supply). It is, therefore, not surprising that many scholars disagree about what Law really is and whether it should be viewed as a science.

A fundamental problem is that, unlike empirical laws such as the speed of light or the gravitational force, law cannot be proven by direct observation because there are too many variables involved. For this reason, it is generally agreed that law is a’social construct’, and not an objective reality like the speed of light or the gravitational pull.

It is a system of rules that are enforced by societal institutions to regulate behaviour. It has been variously described as a science and as an art of justice.

The core subjects of Law are contract, property and criminal law. However, it also includes many other areas such as taxation, labour law, banking law and financial regulation. International law addresses such issues as space exploration, territorial disputes and treaty obligations.

Historically, legal systems have been influenced by philosophy and anthropology. Philosophers such as Aristotle and Cicero developed principles of justice, which were subsequently incorporated into the code of the Roman Empire. These ideas were adapted by medieval legal scholars into the Latin maxims that form the basis of modern law. The principles of the code of Rome were not replaced during the Dark Ages but were rediscovered around the 11th century when they were translated into European languages and adapted to the new social situations that had emerged.

In “common law” legal systems, decisions by courts bind lower courts, and are recognised as having the same authority as statutes passed through legislative processes or regulations issued by the executive branch. This is called the doctrine of precedent, or stare decisis. It contrasts with the civil law system of continental Europe, and most countries in Asia, which have adopted civil codes. In the civil law system, legislative statutes tend to be more detailed, and court decisions are shorter, because they only address a single case and are not binding on future judges. The civil law system also has a more explicit rule of precedence, so that rulings in similar cases are expected to reach similar results.

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