The Definition of Law and Its Functions


The law is the set of enforceable rules that a society or government develops to deal with crime, business agreements, and social relationships. The precise definition of law is a subject of longstanding debate, with scholars divided into those who see it as an instrument for achieving external goals like efficient allocation of resources or moral justice, and those who see it as a body of enforceable principles based on fundamental concepts. The main functions of the law are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. It is important to understand how these functions interact in order to evaluate the proper role of the law and its institutions.

A law is a standard that must be met in order to have legal standing. A legal principle is a logical statement that is either true or false and is based on a general observation or experience. A scientific law is a mathematical description of a natural process, such as Newton’s Law of Gravity or Mendel’s Law of Independent Assortment. Scientific laws are based on empirical evidence and help to unify the body of scientific data, but they can also have exceptions or be changed by future scientific research.

The purpose of a law is to serve its public interest by establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving conflicts, and protecting liberties and rights. Some legal systems, such as those of authoritarian states, may serve some of these purposes, but they are often oppressive toward minorities and other political opponents. Other legal systems, such as those of democracies, provide a more balanced balance between these interests.

A key element of the law is its system of accountability. It is important to ensure that both the government and private actors are held accountable by the law, and that the processes by which the law is adopted, administered, adjudicated, and enforced are fair, publicized, stable, and equitable.

It is also important that the law be flexible to reflect social change and new needs. The judicial branch should be able to adjust the law through creative jurisprudence and the interpretation of existing laws. This flexibility is often referred to as “judicial review.”

A specialized type of law is civil law, which is a comprehensive, codified set of legal statutes created by legislators. Civil law provides a framework for how cases are handled in court and what punishments are appropriate for offenses. This type of law is found in continental Europe and Great Britain, as well as some countries in Asia, such as Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, and Lebanon. In the United States, civil law is usually regulated by state legislatures and by the federal judiciary. Law is also a term used to refer to legal documents, such as the Constitution of the United States or a state’s laws on murder or divorce. Law is also the name of a journal published by the University of California, Berkeley. The articles in this journal are usually written by law students and include both notes and comments.