What Is a Law?

A law is a system of rules enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Laws can be made by a legislature, resulting in statutes, decreed by the executive, resulting in regulations, or established through judges’ decisions, as in common law jurisdictions. Private individuals can also create legal contracts and arbitration agreements that are legally binding. Laws shape politics, economics and history in many ways.

Legal systems vary widely around the world. They can include civil laws codified by legislators, a mix of civil and criminal law, or a religious system. In addition to providing a framework for society, the law can address such issues as compensation when someone or something is harmed, rights in family relationships, the management of public utilities and even property ownership.

Regardless of the type of legal system, laws must respect individual rights and keep society peaceful. However, it is impossible to empirically verify whether a law does so or not. This is because the content of any law relies on humans, whose mental operations can be influenced by emotion and bias. In addition, the law cannot impose behaviours that are impossible or unreasonable to achieve and can only be applied within a limited physical space. For these reasons, the law is a fundamentally flawed system.

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