The Study of Law

Law is the system of rules in a society that govern relationships, governance, trade, and personal rights. The study of law involves exploring deeper dimensions to this special framework that permeates our lives. Law encompasses numerous branches: contract law regulates the exchange of products or services; property law defines people’s rights and duties toward tangible properties (like houses and cars); criminal law outlines punishment for various crimes; and constitutional law sets out the basic limits of government authority.

A large part of law deals with ethical questions: the right and wrong of a particular action or inaction. Many laws are derived from moral principles; others are created as an attempt to describe natural processes. For example, the law of gravity states that any object will fall to the ground if it is not held up.

The law also establishes standards, maintains order, settles disputes, and protects liberties and rights. In many countries, the law is interpreted and applied by a professional class: lawyers and judges. The law is an important subject in schools, and many young people choose to study it at university.

There are many theories about the nature of law. Philosophers like Hans Kelsen developed the ‘pure theory of law’, which describes the role of the law as a ‘normative science’ that defines certain rules for human conduct. Others, like Jean-Jacques Rousseau, argue that the law reflects innate and unchanging laws of nature that have been discovered by humankind.

Laws are created by a combination of legislative statutes, executive regulations, and judicial decisions. In common law systems, judicial decisions are recognized as “law” on equal footing with legislative statutes, and the doctrine of stare decisis holds that a court’s decision in one case can be used to guide future cases. In civil law systems, legislative statutes are more detailed and often more prescriptive.

Some people argue that the law is simply power backed by threats. In this view, a sovereign can make ‘laws’ that are arbitrary or even bad, but the people will follow them because of their sovereign’s power. This view is criticized because it implies that citizens are at the mercy of their governments.

Other controversies surround the law: for example, the debate over whether women should be allowed to become lawyers; the question of censorship; and the role of war and the military in the broader society. See articles on these topics for more information. Law is an interesting and rewarding field of study, and a career in law is becoming increasingly attractive for younger people. The first student-edited legal journal, Jussens Venner, was published in Norway in 1952.