What Is Law?


Law is a system of rules that governs people, things and relationships. It covers all aspects of life and includes the government, social relations and criminal law. It is also used to refer to a particular branch of the law, such as criminal or business law.

Law as a concept is derived from ancient Greek concepts of (law) and () which are related to the term koin – “to go” and – “to come”. It can be understood as a general set of principles that guides the behavior of individuals, societies and governments.

Legal systems can be divided into two primary types: those based on religious precepts and those based on secular principles. The former is based on religion’s traditional teachings or moral precepts and is called religious law, while the latter is not necessarily based on religion but is influenced by it.

Religion-based law has an impact on both civil and criminal law, as it can shape the behavior of people. It can also influence the decisions of judges and other legal actors, such as prosecutors.

Religious laws are typically rooted in religious doctrines, primarily those of the Christian faith but other major faiths such as Judaism and Islam have their own distinct traditions. These include the Quran and the Jewish Halakha, while Islamic Sharia is an elaborate body of jurisprudence based on a variety of interpretive techniques, including Qiyas, Ijma and precedent.

Those who believe that law should be governed by internal logic often use the term “formalism” to describe the idea that decisions and judicial outcomes are determined in accordance with a fixed canon of logical reasoning. Those who reject formalism argue that it is impossible to separate the determination of the “right” or “obligation” from other factors, such as social and political values and commitments, expediency and institutional considerations.

Another school of thought in which the “right” combines the function of an outcome with a reason is the “will theory”, which asserts that rights provide right-holders with a measure of normative control over themselves and others, functioning to make them small-scale sovereigns over a domain, allowing them to annul, waive, transfer or enforce their duties and powers as they see fit.

This view of rights is defended by the classical philosopher Jeremy Bentham (1843b: 490-534; Hart 1962: 312-314). He argued that legal rights are a natural extension of human rights and should be formulated to promote good social consequences rather than reflect vague, dogmatic, antiquated, and moralistic notions of nature’s rights.

The resulting legal theory is a combination of natural rights and deontology, with some elements from the will or choice theory. It can be criticized as too reliant on “natural” reasons and not enough on public policy, but it is not without its advantages in focusing on the needs and interests of people.

In the modern era, there have been many attempts to develop alternative approaches to the development of law and legal rights. The most prominent example of this is the emergence of civil and human rights. These are legal claims that protect people’s rights to privacy, freedom of speech and religion, as well as their ability to participate in civil and political life.