What Is Law?


Law is all of the things that a society develops in order to deal with crime, business agreements and social relationships. It also refers to the profession of lawyers, judges and others who work in this system.

Laws can cover almost anything, but there are three main areas: criminal law, administrative law and civil law. Each of these has its own branches, for example employment law (collective bargaining, strike regulations and the right to unionise) or environmental law (planning, zoning and licensing).

The most important function of law is establishing standards and maintaining order. It also identifies and protects liberties and rights, which are not always the same from nation to nation. The most obvious way this is done is through the political system; a government’s legitimacy is based on its ability to create, enforce and uphold laws, though in many places the actual exercise of this power is often not democratically determined. Each year there are revolts against existing political-legal authority, as well as a desire for democracy and greater rights.

A defining feature of law is its immanent, probabilistic nature. Holmes’ definition of law makes this clear, but the concept is more broadly rooted in human participation. Humans assign true or false values to mathematically undecidable propositions, and this process constitutes experience – the building block of law. As this experience flows, a participant’s probability estimates are updated and, as a result, law is redefined.

Another characteristic of law is its normative nature, which deprives it of the descriptive or causal character that would be found in empirical science (as with the law of gravity) or even in social science (as with the law of supply and demand). However, this does not mean that a person can not make a ‘bettabilitarian’ decision (i.e. bet on the likelihood that an experiment will produce a particular result).

In addition to its practical applications, law is richly developed as an academic discipline. This has resulted in a variety of legal fields, some of which have no parallel elsewhere:

Modern law is a highly specialised area, covering a range of issues such as: