Law is the system of rules a particular community recognizes as regulating its members’ behavior. It may be the result of written legislation or custom and policies established by judicial decision. It may also be a collection of principles sanctioned by religious doctrine. Laws are generally of a normative nature, meaning they prescribe what people should or should not do. They are distinct from laws of empirical or natural science (like the law of gravity) and even social sciences (like the law of supply and demand).
Law shapes politics, economics, history, and society in numerous ways. Its principal purposes are establishing standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights.
The vast majority of the world’s nations have a legal system. It differs from country to nation, but the general pattern is that a government makes the laws and enforces them.
A broad range of laws exist, covering such topics as contracts, taxation, property, and family law. Most countries have a law of torts, which compensates victims for damages from injuries and wrongful acts, as well as the law of property, which regulates the ownership of such items as land and buildings. Several laws deal with transportation, including aviation, maritime, and railroad regulations.
International law covers such subjects as treaties, international agreements, and diplomatic relations. Environmental law, the protection of endangered species, and human rights are also areas of law. Regulatory law, which covers the management of public services such as water and energy, is an increasingly important area of law in modern societies.
Law is a multifaceted subject that spans many disciplines, including philosophy, history, economics, and sociology. Its complexity derives from its unique methodological status, which separates it from other fields of study. Laws are not empirical; they lack causality, and are formulated by judges through a process of interpretation known as jurisprudence. Unlike empirical or natural science, they have an implicit moral component; they establish a standard that people ought to follow.
There are two main types of law: common law and civil law. Common law is the basis of English law and is based on judge-made precedent, while civil law systems are largely influenced by Roman and German law. The development of a Europe-wide Law Merchant in the 18th century led to codification of local laws into civil codes such as the Napoleonic and German Codes. In both cases, the aim is to simplify legal systems so they are easy for citizens and jurists to understand. These systems still allow room for judicial improvisation to adapt the law to new situations and needs.