What Is Law?


Law is a set of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Law shapes politics, economics, history and society in a variety of ways. It is a common area of study in the social sciences and a core aspect of many careers, such as journalism, government and business.

The word “law” is a Latinization of the Hebrew term torah, which means instruction or commandment in the Old Testament. While the term is usually associated with moral admonitions enforced by the state, the Old Testament also presents admonitions that are not amenable to state enforcement (e.g., Exod 20:17; 23:4-5) and even specifies God rather than the state as the enforcer of certain ceremonial instructions (Exod 21:2-6; 22:21-27).

In physics, law describes direct links between the cause and effect of phenomena. For example, the laws of gravity tell us that anything thrown up, unsuspended in space, will come down. These laws can be proven or hypothetical, sanctioned or unsanctioned, true or false, harmonious or antagonistic — but consistent with the reality that is perceptible to human senses.

There are a wide range of laws that govern different areas of life, including crime, trade, property, finance, social relations, and space. Some laws are universal, such as the law of demand; other laws are specific to a region, such as environmental or employment regulations. Laws are based on many different ideas, such as the idea that people should behave according to a standard of decency and morality; the idea that everyone has a right to property, privacy and freedom; and the idea that the best way to solve problems is through a process of discussion and negotiation.

The concept of law is complex and varies from one culture to another, but all cultures recognize the need for rules that ensure a fair and safe society. In some countries, law is made by a national legislature; in others, it is made by a court of justice; and still in others, it is made by the community through consensus. Laws may be secular or religious, depending on the culture and beliefs of the population.

Philosophers have offered a variety of definitions for the law, such as the following:

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