The Basics of Law

The law is a set of rules enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate human behavior. It reflects societal viewpoints on such matters as rationality, fairness, order, and honesty. Law is a complex and varied topic that can be divided into many branches of study. It includes such things as contracts; property (real or personal) law; criminal, civil, and administrative law; and even a law of war and a legal system.

In general, law is any strong rule made by an authority that must be obeyed. However, the word law also commonly applies to any rules or behavior that people might follow instinctively or spontaneously. For example, a person might break a law against murder but save another’s life instead because doing so is something that he or she would do instinctively in a similar situation.

Laws are most often created by a legislature, which results in statutes; by the executive, resulting in regulations; or through the judgment of a court, resulting in precedent. The latter type of law is sometimes called common law, although it is more often called stare decisis, a reference to the principle that judges’ decisions in one case will have broader legal weight than their decisions in other cases.

The goals of laws vary, but they often include ensuring a peaceful society and protecting the rights of citizens. They may include rules that prevent monopolies, establish minimum wages, or guarantee the right to a fair trial.