What is Law?


Law is a set of rules that are created and are enforceable by social or governmental institutions to regulate behaviour. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate, and it has been variously described as a science and as the art of justice. The law influences politics, economics, history and society in many ways. It serves to mitigate conflict, preserve and protect rights, maintain the status quo, punish criminals and provide for orderly social change. Different legal systems vary in their ability to fulfill these functions. For example, an authoritarian regime may keep the peace and preserve stability but also oppress minorities or political opponents.

The study of law is vast and includes numerous subfields. A few core subjects are contracts (which regulate agreements to exchange goods or services), property (including intellectual property and land), torts and constitutional law. Other important areas include labour law, which involves a tripartite relationship between employer, worker and trade union, and civil procedure and evidence law, both of which concern what is admissible in courts for a trial or appeal to proceed.

An ontological understanding of the law focuses on its immanence and probabilistic nature. Holmes defines law as “a flowing process in which the observer, by putting true or false values on mathematically undecidable propositions, makes bets on expected outcomes.” Thus, for him, the law is epistemically accessible—people can understand it and use it to frame their plans, make predictions about events, settle disputes with others and protect themselves against abuses of public or private power.

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