Law is a general term for the rules and regulations of a society that are enforced by a controlling authority. A person who studies law is called a lawyer or a jurist.
The precise nature of laws is a subject of intense debate. Some scholars have defined them as a system of rules that is created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to control behavior and promote order. Others have characterized laws as a system of indisputable facts about the world and the forces that operate within it.
Laws may be in the form of a constitution, written laws, or unwritten customs. They may be formulated and enforced through the process of legal interpretation or by a ruling of a court. They may cover a variety of subjects, such as property, criminal, or administrative matters. Laws may also be formulated by a legislative body or enacted through executive orders.
A more narrowly defined meaning of law includes the set of principles by which a human being, or any creature endowed with the faculties of reason and free will, is commanded to govern his or her behavior. This is the meaning that is more closely associated with the modern concept of law as a body of constitutional or statutory rules and regulations.
People who study law, or law and society, are interested in the ways that laws are made, used, and changed. They also study the effects of law on the behavior and attitudes of people.
In a more abstract sense, the word law can be applied to any strong rule or injunction that must be obeyed: For example, the strict house rules that parents lay down for their children might be described as laws. Likewise, any natural urge or instinctive behavior that must be followed might also be described as a law, such as the law of self-preservation.
Many theories about law are based on the belief that there are certain principles that all governments should follow. A basic assumption of most of these is that the law must protect fundamental human, procedural, and property rights. Other assumptions are that the law must be understandable by all citizens, and that it must be stable and consistent. It is also important that the law be fair, so that it does not discriminate against people based on their wealth or status.
The study of law is a broad and diverse discipline, with branches covering everything from the study of ancient civilisations to the study of contemporary international treaties. It is an area that is constantly influenced by changes in political philosophy, economic interests and moral values. It is also a field that is continually redefining itself to reflect new developments in technology, science and social trends. For this reason, a comprehensive survey of law is not possible. However, a number of scholars have attempted to create a framework for the analysis of law, and the article below discusses some of these.