What Is Law?


Law is an established system of rules that governs human society and explains many aspects of life. It covers a broad range of subjects, from property law to criminal justice.

The underlying foundation of law is its principles and fixed rules, which protect the administration of justice from errors in individual judgment. Aristotle wrote that “to seek to be wiser than the law is the very thing which is forbidden.”

One of the principal purposes of law is to maintain order, resolve disputes, and protect rights and liberties. Another is to avoid corruption of the judicial process.

A third is to provide a set of standards and guidelines for judging cases. A fourth is to guarantee fair and equal treatment of all persons.

Generally, laws are created through a legislative process. They establish requirements or prohibitions, which are often implemented through regulations issued by executive branch agencies. The creation of laws and their implementation vary widely from nation to nation.

Judicial decisions, or court rulings, are recognized as “law” on equal footing with statutes and regulations, even when they are not directly adopted by the legislature. This is known as the doctrine of precedent or stare decisis.

Some courts use precedent to bind future decisions, while others base their judgments on other sources of law. For example, some Muslim and Jewish legal systems are based on religious precepts.

In contrast, some legal systems are based on natural law or morality. The utilitarian theory of John Austin and Jeremy Bentham, for example, asserted that law was a morally regulated process that commands people to obey.

Some other theories of law, such as those of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, argue that law is essentially a set of moral laws and therefore unalterable. They also claim that law serves to prevent social disorder and promote social progress.