What Is Law?

Law is the set of rules established and enforced by a governing body, such as a country’s federal, state, or local government. The purpose of law is to keep peace, maintain order, resolve disputes, and protect liberties and rights. Some laws are more effective at fulfilling these goals than others. For example, a nation ruled by authoritarian leaders may be successful at maintaining order and stability but not protect the rights of minorities or other groups.

The precise definition of law is a topic of long-standing debate, with various philosophies offering differing theories on its genesis and justness. One theory, natural law, relies on perceived universal moral principles to explain laws. It assumes that a basic understanding of right and wrong exists in all people, and focuses on the influence of nature, logic, ethics, and religion on human behavior.

A law is a rule that prohibits certain actions and imposes penalties for those who violate them. Courts play a critical role in the development and enforcement of law, particularly by hearing grievances from those who believe they have been unfairly treated or punished.

The most important characteristics of a law are that it be clear, publicized, and stable, and that it apply evenly to all persons. A law also must be enforceable, and the processes for adopting, administering, adjudicating, and enforcing it must be fair and efficient. For example, a physical law, such as Boyle’s law, describes an invariable relationship between two objects, such as the strength of gravity between an apple and the Earth, irrespective of their location.