The Definition of Law

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Law is the body of rules imposed and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate human conduct. It serves many purposes, including establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. Law can be either prescriptive or descriptive, telling how people ought to behave or not, or describing what they may or cannot do. It is also a source of scholarly inquiry in legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology.

Historically, laws have been created by a variety of methods, such as oral tradition and written documents. In modern society, laws are primarily created by legislative bodies and judicial decisions. The discipline and profession of law includes a wide range of topics, including criminal law, civil law, administrative law, and international law.

The earliest definition of law emphasized the legal rights and duties of merchants who sailed from one country to another in Europe, in order to facilitate trade. This led to the formation of the first European commercial laws. As nationalism grew in the 18th and 19th centuries, merchants’ law was incorporated into countries’ local law under new civil codes.

More recently, the philosophic discipline of jurisprudence has attempted to define law, in terms of the ‘law of nature’ or ‘natural law’. This view of law, based on natural and scientific principles, emphasizes consistency and probability. It is a view that supports Holmes’ ontological understanding of law: “Law is an expression of a consistent reality, and it exists as long as bad men expect to be obeyed.”(Hampton [1905]). The ‘bettabilitarian’ definition of law has its critics, however.