The Study of Law

Law is the set of rules, made by a government, that citizens must obey or face punishment. For example, in most places there are laws against stealing; people who break these laws are fined or put in jail.

Several theories about law exist. Hans Kelsen created the ‘pure theory of law’, arguing that the existence of law implies that a society is ruled by objective standards and not by subjective custom. Max Weber reshaped thinking on the limits of government and its accountability, arguing that modern military, policing and bureaucratic power pose new challenges for law that earlier writers like Montesquieu or Locke did not anticipate.

The study of law includes many fields, such as tort law, which provides compensation when someone’s property is harmed, or privacy law, which prevents others from disclosing private information. Criminal law concerns offenses against the state, and civil law involves disputes between individuals. Company law is a field that grew out of the law of trusts and the concept of separate legal personality. Contract law, property law, and medical jurisprudence are other areas.

The study of law also includes a consideration of the deeper dimensions to the subject, such as whether laws should be based on religious precepts (e.g., Jewish halakha and Islamic Shari’a) or on further human elaboration, such as Qiyas (interpretation), Ijma (consensus) and jurisprudence (reference to precedent). See also administrative law; crime and punishment; and censorship. For the history of specific types of laws, see Chinese law; civil law; constitutional law; common law; corporation law; criminal law; labour law; property law; and tort law.