What Is Law?

Law, broadly defined, is a system of rules established and enforced to ensure civil order in societies. It serves a variety of purposes: it imposes standards, maintains the status quo, resolves disputes, and protects rights and liberties. Laws are coercive – they compel people to comply with them or face punishment. Law is a tool of social engineering and, because of this, many definitions incorporate elements of social philosophy, economic interests, and ethical values.

Law has a number of sub-fields including contract law, property law (regarding both real and personal property), and environmental law. It also includes the legal aspects of government and policing, as well as the military and war.

The main purpose of laws is to regulate and control human interactions and relations, as well as the natural world. For example, contract law outlines the conditions and rules for commercial partnerships; property law defines the rights and duties of individuals toward tangible properties such as land and buildings; and tax law determines what taxes people should pay.

In addition, law imposes moral limits on human behavior, and the idea that morality is a part of or separate from law is an ongoing debate. Other debates include whether or not judges and attorneys should be free to use their own sense of what is right and wrong, despite the fact that they are bound by law, and whether or not law should be applied in different ways in different regions.