What is Law?

A broad term for the system of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate human conduct. The precise definition of law is a matter of longstanding debate, but most legal systems include some combination of rules that govern contracts, property, crime, and justice.

Some philosophers have offered different ideas about what law is. Hans Kelsen, for example, wrote that law is a ‘normative science’, while Friedrich Karl von Savigny said that law is a matter of custom that emerges through the interaction of many people and that varies with time and place.

Most people agree that the law should respect individual rights and provide a framework for a peaceful society. The law should also ensure that all people receive the same treatment and that public officials do not exercise excessive power. These goals are sometimes called the rule of law, and they are embodied in documents such as Magna Carta, which recognized that a king should not be above the law.

A judicial system is also necessary for the rule of law, and some of its features are found in articles such as due process; censorship; crime and punishment; and police. Other areas of the law that may be considered important are family law; international law; property law; and tax law. The profession that deals with law is called the legal profession. For an exposition of the nature of law and a discussion of its relationship to other social issues, see Law, philosophy of.

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