What Is Law?


Law is the set of rules that regulate human behaviour and is enforced by a social or governmental authority. It serves many purposes, including establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. It shapes politics, economics, history and society in many ways, and is an integral part of all civilisations.

There are a number of different forms of law, which vary by jurisdiction and historical period. Generally speaking, they can be broadly divided into two types: (a) civil law systems, which are based on Roman and Germanic laws and cover about 60% of the world; and (b) common law systems, whose legal principles are largely derived from case-law. Both forms of law can be further subdivided into constitutional and extra-constitutional laws.

Constitutional law relates to the fundamental principles that form the basis of any country’s government and culture, and is usually considered the most important area of legal knowledge. Extra-constitutional law includes a wide range of topics, such as international law, criminal law, administrative law, labour laws and intellectual property.

The main function of law is to regulate society, whether through criminal or civil justice, or in the form of custom and policies. Its precise definition is the subject of ongoing debate, but it usually includes a body of rules recognized and enforced by an authority, and a controlling influence over society.

Legal philosophy and theory concern how these rules are created, interpreted and applied. For example, some of these theories consider the origins and development of law, while others examine the role of law in societies and cultures, and its relation to such issues as religion, ethics and science.

Other types of law include immigration and asylum law, terrorism and national security laws, and the rules concerning families and money. These areas are often regulated by complex and detailed legislation. They may also be subject to criticism by scholarly literature and by the media, with some articles taking a position on controversial changes to the law.

In addition, law can also be used to refer to a particular group or individual’s experience of reality, particularly in the context of an individual’s prediction about how their own narrative intersects with an external reality shaped by other peoples’ narratives. This is often called a ‘flow of experience’, and it is an essential component of Holmes’s definition of law.

There are very few living9 cultures that use a non-modern scientific system of law, but one example is the Inuit people of northern Canada who have a concept of law that does not divide reality into natural and non-natural/human. This suggests that a more inclusive definition of law might be helpful in reconciling modern judicial and scientific uses of the term. However, such a concept is unlikely to find favour amongst the legal community, which has a strong preference for a clearly defined set of rules that are easy to read and understand. This is why so much of legal education is focused on interpreting and applying existing laws rather than inventing new ones.