The Meaning of Law

Law is a wide field and a source of many different theories. Some scholars define the concept of law to refer to the socially constituted authority of states which are able to impose coercion and enforce a framework of rules of regulation and direction. Others use the term to include the broader concept of normative order including morality, religion and other social conventions.

The question of the meaning of Law is central to a number of important areas of inquiry, such as sociology, history and philosophy. Legal theorists have debated the extent to which the concept of Law incorporates morality or natural rights. Bentham’s utilitarian law definition dominated the debate over the nature of law until the 20th century, while natural lawyers such as Rousseau argued that law should reflect innate, unchanging laws of human nature.

In the everyday world, Law governs a multitude of aspects of life. For example, contract law regulates agreements to exchange goods or services, and property law defines people’s rights and duties toward tangible and intangible possessions. Criminal law deals with conduct considered harmful to society and which may result in punishment, while civil law addresses disputes between individuals such as wrongful injury or defamation. Law also defines the rights of migrants and asylum seekers, and the boundaries between a state’s jurisdiction and its international obligations. Law is a major source of scholarly inquiry in the fields of legal history, philosophy and economic analysis.

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