Law is the system of rules a society or government develops to govern behavior in matters like criminal activity, business agreements and social relationships. It also refers to the people whose job it is to enforce these rules and to provide interpretations of them when disputes arise.
Law shapes politics, economics, history and society in many ways and serves as a mediator between people. It is one of the most complex and powerful institutions humans have developed, generating intense philosophical inquiry. There are many different approaches to understanding the nature of law, with some attempting to capture its broadest features in a single concept, while others focus on the moral or utilitarian reasons that make it desirable.
Throughout human history the coercive nature of law has given rise to several fierce debates. Early legal positivists, such as Bentham and Austin, argued that the normativity of law lies in its ability to impose practical demands through the threat of sanctions. Twentieth century legal positivists, however, have tended to deny this, arguing that the power of coercion is neither essential nor pivotal to law’s ability to fulfill its social functions.
Another source of controversy is the question of how law differs from and interacts with other normative domains, such as morality, religion and social conventions (e.g., etiquette). A central theme of the philosophy of law is an attempt to answer this question and to identify the factors that make law intelligible.
The scope of the field can be divided into two broad categories: law and society and law and the individual. Society law includes public laws and the legal system, while individual law deals with private disputes. The societal dimension of law includes constitutional and administrative law, as well as criminal and civil law. Often a country’s legal system will be heavily influenced by its culture. For example, European countries tend to adopt a common law legal tradition, while Asian nations typically follow a civil law tradition. The legal system of a country is also affected by the way that the country is organized, as well as the country’s international standing. For instance, the United States has become an important force in world politics due to its military strength and economic prowess. This influence has shaped the laws and policies of the country in many ways, including its views on the importance of international law. Other factors that can influence a country’s laws include the extent to which it recognizes international law and its view on the rights of individuals within its borders. A final consideration is the extent to which a country supports and values democracy, human rights and freedoms of expression and religion.