What Is the Law?

The law is a system of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate, with it being variously described as a science and as the art of justice.

John Chipman Gray explains that the word “law” means two things. First it refers to the legal order, which is the regime of adjusting relations and ordering conduct by systematic application of force of an organized political society. Secondly, it refers to the entire body of legal precepts which exist in an organised political society. It also refers to all official control in that organised political society.

Another meaning of the word law is a moral and ethical code regulating human conduct, speech, and beliefs. It is a set of enforceable norms, with corresponding penalties and incentives to promote human welfare. It is the basis of the civil, commercial, criminal and constitutional order.

It is the law that protects individual rights and enables individuals to live in a safe and stable society. The laws are applied equally to all citizens and they are a formal means of resolving disputes. For example, if two people claim the same land or property, the law will decide who the owner is. The law also ensures that police, governments and public officials follow the same rules as everyone else.

However, the law is not perfect. Some of its rules are not fair and may cause injustice to some individuals. Moreover, some of the rules are outdated or unenforceable in the modern world. The law needs to be updated and improved on a constant basis.

The main functions of the law are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving conflicts and protecting liberties and rights. It is not a simple task and it takes years of hard work to develop a law which can be used in practice. The societal values and the culture of a country affect how the laws are formed and used. For instance, in the Old Testament, tora () is usually translated as law but it actually refers to religious instruction.

Generally, the underlying assumption behind the law is that there is a consistent reality which all humans can observe and which is measurable. This reality could be proven or hypothetical, sanctioned or unsanctioned, harmonious or antagonistic. For example, the law of gravity states that anything thrown up in the air will fall to the ground. This is a consistent reality and it is therefore a law. Similarly, the law of bigamy states that no man can have more than one wife at a time. However, it is important to remember that this is only a rule and it cannot be considered as an absolute truth. The law should be modified in the light of new facts and knowledge to match our changing world. This is why a constitutional democracy is essential for a democratic and free society. In addition, a good and strong judiciary is also an essential component of a healthy democracy.