What Is Law?


Law is a system of rules created and enforced by governmental or social institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is subject to long-standing debate, and different legal systems have widely varying views of what constitutes law. For example, some view law as a set of rules for human behavior that must be followed and punished when violated, while others consider it a framework for social change or an art of justice.

Some of the most important functions of law are to keep the peace, maintain the status quo, protect minorities against majorities and promote social justice. But, it is not always possible for laws to fulfill these goals, particularly in nation-states that are ruled by authoritarian or unstable governments.

The core subjects of law include contracts, property and criminal laws. Contract law concerns people’s rights and duties in negotiating and exchanging goods or services, from buying a bus ticket to trading on the stock market. Property law defines people’s rights and duties toward tangible property, such as land or buildings, and intangible property, such as bank accounts or shares of stock. Criminal law is concerned with enforcing a society’s prohibitions against certain types of conduct, such as murder or theft.

Law also provides a rich source of scholarly inquiry, including in areas like legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology. Its complex and diverse nature makes it difficult to define a unified concept of law, although many scholars have tried.