What is Law?


Law is the system of rules that are enforced through social or governmental institutions to regulate behaviour and ensure that everyone adheres to a common understanding of what is acceptable. It is the subject of a wide range of scholarly work in areas such as legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology, and raises complex issues regarding equality and justice.

There are a broad number of fields within the study of law, with some branches more closely associated with specific types of legal systems and societies. Contract law, for example, covers agreements to trade goods or services; property law outlines people’s rights and duties towards tangible (physical) objects, including land and buildings; while criminal law deals with conduct that is considered harmful to society.

Other specialised branches of law include environmental law, which addresses the regulation of natural resources such as water; space law, which covers human activities in outer-space; and banking law, which sets rules about how much capital banks must have and best practice for investment. Immigration and asylum law covers the right of people to live and work in a country that is not their own; and family law covers marriage, divorce and the rights of children.

Law is not a ‘thing’ that can be verified empirically, as it depends on the shape of the physical world and the limitations inherent in it. It also depends on humans and their mental operations, with each person making a rational choice about what to do in a particular situation based on the intersection of their own narrative and an external reality that is shaped by other people’s narratives.