Law is the system of rules and practices developed by a society on matters such as crime, trade, property, finance and social relations. It is regulated and enforced by the state or other organised political power. The study of law is called jurisprudence and people who practise law are known as lawyers or barristers.
Law reflects the values and interests of a society. Ideally it should serve the interest of all but in reality this is often not the case. For example, some behaviours that injure or damage others are not tolerated by society and therefore become crimes if they occur. The main functions of laws are to establish standards, maintain order and protect people.
In modern societies, many types of law exist to deal with different areas. Space law, for example, relates to issues such as international agreements relating to space commercialisation and the rules governing human activities in earth orbit and outer space. Tax law is a more familiar area of law and concerns regulations about value added tax, corporate taxes and income tax as well as banking and financial regulation.
Laws are created and maintained through the legislative, judicial and executive branches of government and the laws of a nation vary from country to country. They are also affected by the social and economic conditions of a country and the culture of the people. For example, the rules of bigamy in India (a man can only marry one wife at a time) are very different to those in England and Scotland where it is legal for a person to have four wives.
The philosophical roots of law can be traced back to ancient Greek philosophy, and it is a fascinating subject to study. However, a definition of law is complex and unique as it differs from the normative statements used in other sciences such as empirical science (like the law of gravity) and even social science (such as the law of supply and demand).
There are a number of views on what constitutes law. A classical approach is that of a ‘natural’ or ‘rational’ law which states the principles and facts that are recognised and acknowledged by all participants. This approach is based on the notion that human beings are naturally good and should act fairly and equitably towards all other humans.
Another approach is that of the’social’ or ‘political’ law which emphasises the purpose and function of law in the context of a particular society. This view takes into account the effect that law has on society and is influenced by the sociological school of thought. This approach considers that law is an instrument of social progress and that it should aim to ensure justice which may be either distributive or corrective. It is also influenced by the idea that law has an element of force which can be used to balance conflicting or competing needs within society. This concept of law is also sometimes referred to as a’social contract’.