Law is a set of rules established by social or governmental institutions to govern human conduct. These rules may be made by a collective legislature, creating statutes, or may be established through executive decrees, resulting in regulations and executive orders. Law may also be created by judges, establishing case law in common law jurisdictions. Law is an essential part of any society and provides the basis for many scholarly endeavors, including legal history, philosophy, ethics, economic analysis, sociology, and political science.
A common use of the word law is to refer to the laws of a specific geographic area, such as a country or state. In this sense, it is a set of rules that the citizens of a particular area must follow or face punishment. For example, most places have a law against stealing; breaking this law could result in a fine or imprisonment.
The broader meaning of the word law includes a general concept of legality, that is, whether or not certain acts are fair and just. This sense of the word is the basis for much scholarly investigation into philosophical ideas such as natural law, utilitarianism, and idealism.
Legal concepts are the basis for a number of specialized fields, such as business law, criminal law, contract law, property law, and family law. These specialized areas of law are defined by their focus and the methods used to determine their validity.
Law relates to the socially organized order of a given society and is influenced by its values, morality, idealism, and justice. In most instances, the purpose of law is to guarantee the basic needs and desires of society as a whole. Various theorists define this purpose in different ways, but all of them agree that law is a tool to achieve justice and balance competing interests.
Gray’s definition of law focuses on the function and ends of law, and it is criticized for being too narrow in its scope. It fails to recognize that law is a combination of command and sanction, a system of rules backed by the power of force.
Pound’s definition of law is more complex and relates to the role of the state in regulating behavior. He believes that the state is a “social institution” that exists to satisfy social wants. He explains that laws are a form of social engineering, and they serve their purpose by balancing out the interests of various groups in society. Other theorists such as Dias and Hans Kelsen have similar views.