The Nature of Law


Law is the set of enforceable rules that define and govern a community or society. The enforcing of the laws can be done through a state, with legislation and the power to coerce individuals into adhering to its laws, or by private organizations, such as a company or club, with legal sanctions applied to members who fail to follow them. Among the main purposes of law are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights.

The nature of law is complex, as it is at once normative and descriptive, a combination that makes it different from other disciplines or sciences. The fact that the laws impose sanctions on their subjects has long made some philosophers believe that law’s normative character is its distinguishing feature and that this explains why it cannot be reduced to other types of descriptive or causal statements, such as those in empirical science (as the law of gravity) or social science (as a law of supply and demand). Other scholars, however, have denied this claim, suggesting that while the coercive element is an important aspect of law, it is not essential and does not explain why law is unlike other normative domains.

Generally, the law may be categorized into civil and criminal laws. The former cover a broad range of matters, from contracts to property. Contract law covers agreements to exchange goods or services, including everything from a bus ticket to trading options on a stock market. Property law encompasses people’s rights and duties toward their tangible property, such as houses or cars, and also intangible property such as intellectual property and bank accounts.

Criminal law is the branch of law that deals with crime, including murder and rape. It also defines the punishment that is to be imposed on offenders, as well as how those who commit crimes are punished.

Other areas of law include labour and employment law, which concerns a tripartite industrial relationship between worker, employer and trade union, and may involve such issues as health and safety and the right to strike. Immigration and nationality law is concerned with the rights of individuals to live in a country that is not their own, and to acquire or lose citizenship. Family law covers marriage, divorce proceedings and the rights of children.

The field of law also covers a variety of international issues, including environmental, space and economic law. Environmental law addresses such issues as ozone depletion and global warming, while space law covers the legality of activities in outer space, and economic law covers taxes and financial regulation. In addition, a variety of other specialised areas of law exist. For example, a lawyer who specialises in taxation will deal with the laws relating to corporate and individual taxation, while banking law is concerned with rules about capital investment and banking. Other areas of specialist law include tax fraud, banking law and tort law, which covers compensation for injury to person or property caused by negligence.