What is Law?


Law is a set of rules, principles and practices that governs people’s behaviour. It serves many purposes but the four principal ones are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes and protecting liberties and rights. It also describes the legal profession, especially for women, who are often denied access to law schools and are under-represented in the law profession.

A common misconception is that law deals with legality, which is the degree to which a certain action is or is not permitted in society. However, the term law also entails morality and ethics, which is how we should behave in society. This is different from the concept of justice, which is how people should be treated by the state (see below).

In contrast to laws in empirical and social sciences such as a law of gravity or an economic law of supply and demand, a law is normative and not descriptive. As a result, a law’s validity cannot be tested. It is a matter of ‘bettabilitarian’ expectation, as Holmes puts it: “the act of the participator assigning true or false values to mathematically undecidable propositions constitutes experience; and experience being a flowing process, the participant’s probability estimates are constantly revised, and law is defined anew.”

Some law originates with religious precepts such as Jewish Halakhah and Islamic Shari’a, whilst Christian canon law persists in some church communities. However, a thorough and detailed legal system requires human elaboration. This occurs through interpretation and jurisprudence, such as Ijma, Qiyas and precedent.