What Is Law?


The law shapes politics, history, economics and society in many ways. It imposes moral standards, defines property rights and helps people settle disputes. It can also limit the extent of government power by setting limits on the power of police and other public officials. However, it can be difficult to give a precise definition of Law because legal systems differ and individuals have different ideas about the meaning of Law.

In the broadest sense, law encompasses all rules that are recognised by a community and enforced through sanctions such as fines or imprisonment. In addition to defining property rights and ensuring that all members of a community act within a socially acceptable framework, it may also help prevent crime by providing punishment for those who break the rules.

A common view is that the law should consist of precepts that guide how people ought to behave, but this view is controversial because it is impossible to empirically prove a rule of this kind. A more practical approach is to look for broad rules that apply to the narrower issue or case you are researching, and then consider the major principles that underlie those rules. You should also look for scholarship from other fields outside the law – for example, from philosophy, sociology, psychology, medicine or economics – to see what insights they might have.

Legal disciplines that examine the law from specific perspectives include criminal law, family law and labour law. Labour law covers the tripartite industrial relationship between employer, employee and trade unions; it also includes rights to strike and health and safety regulations. Criminal law addresses the rights and duties of citizens, such as a right to a fair trial or hearing. Family law covers marriage, divorce and children’s rights. Property law covers ownership of goods and money, including land and buildings.

The study of the history of law is a separate discipline that looks at how laws have developed over time. It also identifies the major influences on the development of a legal system, such as the constitution, custom and tradition.

A comprehensive understanding of the law requires the ability to analyse the different fields that make up the legal system. This is because each field has its own set of questions and issues, which are shaped by different ideas about the purpose of law. For instance, the relationship between the state and the private sector is explored in regulation; privatisation; space law; air and maritime transport; tax law; banking law; financial regulation and insurance. Similarly, the field of law as it affects society and culture is shaped by the views of Max Weber and other writers. The law as a form of social control is influenced by the beliefs of philosophers like Roscoe Pound. It is important to understand these different influencing forces if you want to write an article about the law.