What Is Law?


Law is a system of rules and principles that govern the conduct of people, organizations and nations. Its functions include ensuring that all people are treated equally, preventing crime and protecting citizens’ rights.

In many countries, law is made by governments and is enforced by courts. When a person breaks a law, they may be fined or sent to jail.

The word “law” comes from the Latin phrase lege (pronounced like ‘klaw’). It means a rule or policy imposed by a government and requiring obedience on the part of its subjects.

It can also refer to the entire body of laws of a nation or state.

Depending on the type of law, it can serve to keep the peace, maintain the status quo, preserve individual rights, protect minorities against majorities, promote social justice, and provide for orderly social change.

Laws can be written in books, called statutes or laws, or in the form of regulations, precepts, ordinances, or canons. In religious use, the term law is usually associated with commandments or prescriptions from a divine authority.

A legal right is a normative claim that, for some reason, excludes or trumps other conflicting considerations.

This can range from a “right” to not be subjected to certain forms of exploitation or discrimination, to a right to inherit property rights on the basis of gender, to a right to die in conditions of starvation, etc.

Some legal rights are defeasible in principle and at times even in practice; they can coexist relatively peacefully with other legal claims that have similar ends, such as the rights of freedom or equality.

Another important factor in whether a legal right is defeasible is its stringency. The stringency of a legal right is a function of how much conflicting reasons it excludes or trumps, and how demanding the duties grounded in the right are.

The broader the scope of conflicting reasons that a legal right trumps or excludes, the more stringent is its peremptoriness. For example, a “right” that excludes all conflicting considerations involving the interests of predatory slumlords would be very strict and, therefore, very difficult to defend against.

Likewise, a right that trumps or excludes all conflicting considerations involving collective goals, such as economic or political welfare, is very stringent and, therefore, very difficult to defend against.

In the United States, antitrust law is a specific area of law that deals with competition among businesses. It can include regulations on unfair contractual terms and clauses, laws against price fixing or monopolies, laws governing business organizations, or directives for airline baggage insurance.

Other areas of law that involve rights are immigration law and nationality law, as well as family, labor, and corporate laws. These include the rights of foreigners to live and work in the country, and the right to acquire or lose citizenship. Other areas of law are concerned with money, such as contracts, insurance, sales law, and bankruptcy.