What Is Law?


Law is a system of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It encompasses a wide range of legal fields, from criminal law and family law to commercial law and taxation. Law can also be used to refer to specific areas of the field, such as international law or constitutional law. The term can also be applied to the legal profession, including lawyers, judges, and others who work in this area.

Law has some unique features that set it apart from other sciences and disciplines. From a methodological point of view, law cannot be subjected to empirical verification, as is the case for normative statements in natural science (like the law of gravity) or even social science (such as the law of demand and supply in economics). Law, like any human construct, can only be tested and proved by means of logic and argumentation.

From a theoretical point of view, law is characterized by its claim to be based on natural processes. This claim is disputed by many philosophers, as laws are often imposed by humans for non-natural reasons, such as moral, religious, or emotional considerations.

Another defining feature of law is the concept of a right. From a Hohfeldian perspective, a right is a claim that a person can make against a counterparty for the performance of some owed duty. For example, Joseph can make a claim against Peter for his failure to pay him back the amount of money that he borrowed from him. This claim is a right because it is made in accordance with the principle of equality, and since both parties are equal in terms of their ability to perform the obligation, this claim can be justified.

There are a variety of different ways that laws can be formed, and these systems vary significantly between nations. Some legal systems are authoritarian and tend to keep the peace, maintain the status quo, or oppress minorities; while others are democratic and promote social change and fairness. Laws may be imposed by a collective legislature, resulting in statutes; by an executive, resulting in decrees and regulations; or by judicial precedent, normally referred to as common law. Private individuals can create legal rights by forming contracts and by establishing trusts.

Law encompasses a broad range of topics and is constantly evolving, as are the people who study it. This is especially true for those who practice it, which can be a lucrative career for those with the proper training. This is why it is so important for anyone interested in pursuing a law degree to research and understand the current state of the law in order to succeed in this field. This is why Oxford Reference is proud to provide comprehensive coverage of law in our collections, from the core subjects such as criminal, tax, and labor law, to the major debates in legal theory. Our expert-written, concise definitions and encyclopedic entries offer trusted information on all aspects of this vast and important discipline.