The Study of Law


Law is the system of rules and institutions that regulate the actions of people in a society. The precise definition of law is a subject of long debate, with different schools of thought holding differing views about whether and how it incorporates morality. John Austin’s utilitarian view was that “law consists of commandments, backed by the threat of sanctions, from a sovereign, to whom all must have a habit of obedience.” Natural lawyers, such as Jean-Jacques Rousseau, held that laws are derived from the innate nature of man.

The scope of law is vast, with articles ranging from basic legal terms and processes to in-depth analysis of specific areas. Criminal law, for example, covers the rights of suspects and defendants, while civil law encompasses the right to a fair trial and appeal. Administrative law examines the rules and regulations that govern government agencies, such as courts, police, and social security agencies. Property law covers the rights of owners of land and objects, as well as legal disputes involving ownership. Laws regulating financial activity are called banking or financial law, while environmental law is concerned with the preservation of natural resources.

The study of law has a strong relationship to philosophy, which considers the nature and justification of legal systems. Legal philosophy is the branch of philosophy that studies the origins, nature, and rationality of laws. Other areas of relevance are theology, ethics, and history.

Articles relating to the role of law in society are of great interest. For examples, political philosophers have analyzed the relationship between law and power, including whether laws are democratic or authoritarian and how the structure of a state affects its legitimacy. Other articles describe the legal training and education of lawyers, and the practice of law itself.

The law serves many purposes, but the four main ones are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. Some legal systems serve these goals better than others. For example, an authoritarian government may keep the peace and maintain the status quo, but it can also oppress minorities and limit freedoms. Similarly, democratic governments may promote justice, but they can become corrupt or fail to deal with sudden change in society. An ideal system would balance these competing concerns. This is often difficult to achieve. The purpose of the law is not to dictate behavior, but to set minimum standards and provide a framework within which people can live safely. This purpose is reflected in the various types of law. Examples include tort law, which provides compensation when someone is harmed in a traffic accident or by defamation. Labor law focuses on the tripartite industrial relationship between worker, employer and trade union, as well as individual employment law. Criminal and civil procedure law address what rules courts must follow during trials and hearings, and evidence law defines which materials are admissible in court. Law also relates to the social issues of war, gender equality, and the rights of children.