What Is Law?


Law shapes politics, economics, history and society in a broad variety of ways. It is a major focus of study for legal historians, philosophers, sociologists and economists. It raises fundamental questions of equality and justice.

Ultimately, laws exist to regulate human interactions with one another and with the environment. They are a form of social control designed to keep humans safe and healthy, promote prosperity, and facilitate trade. Laws set standards for conduct and establish responsibilities for people of all backgrounds and social classes, regardless of their wealth or status. They are also a tool for governments to use in responding to events, whether by punishing criminals or providing relief to victims.

The precise definition of law is an ongoing discussion, but most scholars agree that it encompasses the rules governing human activities and institutions. Laws are generally created and enforced by a public authority, which is sometimes called a government or state. Laws are typically enacted through legislative statutes or by the executive branch. A common characteristic of law is the doctrine of stare decisis, which holds that judicial decisions bind future courts to uphold them.

There are many branches of law, ranging from commercial laws to family law. Contract law defines agreements to exchange goods or services and includes everything from buying a bus ticket to trading options on a derivatives market. Criminal law deals with conduct that is harmful to the social order and may lead to imprisonment or fines. Property law identifies people’s rights and duties toward tangible possessions, including land and buildings, as well as intangible assets such as intellectual property or money.