What Is Law?
Law is a set of socially enforceable rules that govern the activities and relations of individuals and groups in a society. It is often viewed as both an art and a science. Whether it is the law of gravity, an electrical circuit’s resistance to current, or the rules governing contracts between businesses, laws govern all aspects of daily life in a modern society. Law is the defining concept in all legal systems, although they differ substantially from one to another. Laws are a vital part of any society, and a society without them is unlikely to thrive.
Laws are enacted by governments, corporations, organizations, and individuals, as well as by international institutions such as the United Nations. They regulate behavior, provide security and stability, ensure fairness, and promote prosperity. They serve both utilitarian and ethical purposes. Some of the principal functions of law are to define rights and duties, allocate property, and ensure equality.
The word law comes from the Old Testament, where it refers to the commandments given by God. It also can refer to rules devised by man that are based on the principles of right reason, views of the nature and constitution of man, and divine revelation.
There are two types of law: natural law and positive law. The former is a set of rules and principles that govern human behavior based on right reason and divine revelation. It is not to be confused with natural science, which describes invariable relationships among phenomena under a given set of conditions (such as Boyle’s law, relating volume and pressure to temperature for an ideal gas).
Positive law is a system of rules and regulations that a government has established to accomplish specific goals. It may be derived from the laws of nature and of human nature, or it may be created by an act of parliament or the executive branch. In the latter case, it is generally based on legislation and other judicial decisions.
Laws are implemented and enforced by governmental agencies, including police departments, courts, and regulatory bodies. They are typically codified in written form and include a description of their purpose, scope, and effect. Laws are also subject to revision and interpretation. The process of modifying or adding new laws is often called legislative reform.
In a constitutional republic, the legislature is the body responsible for drafting and passing laws. Its members are elected by citizens, usually in a multi-party system. The executive branch, meanwhile, implements and enforces the laws passed by the legislature. It is important for legislators to understand the effect of their laws on businesses, individuals, and families, so they can make informed decisions when drafting and amending them. In addition to these roles, legislators and other members of the governmental hierarchy are frequently called upon to serve in volunteer capacities as counselors or advisors to private parties seeking help with legal matters.