What Is Law?


Law is the system of rules that a society develops and enforces to deal with crime, business agreements, and social relationships. It can also refer to a profession that involves advising people about the law, representing them in court, or giving decisions and punishments.

The precise definition of law is a matter of ongoing debate, but it usually encompasses the body of laws created by governmental institutions to regulate human conduct and relationships. Law is a vast subject, and its various branches include contract law, criminal law, property law, and torts.

Legal systems vary greatly from country to country, and even within a single country. They may have common features based on historically accepted justice ideals, but they usually develop in distinctive ways. Some countries employ multiple systems at once to create hybrid systems.

For example, a country may have a civil law system and a criminal law system at the same time. In the United States, “civil law” refers to lawsuits with non-criminal claims such as divorce, breach of contract, or torts. In other countries, however, the term is used to describe a criminal law system that contains both civil and common claims.

The law is what the courts, legislatures, and executive branch establish and enact to guide the actions of individuals and groups in a society. It is not only a set of guidelines but an institution that shapes the values and attitudes of a culture.

A key figure in the development of our American Constitution, Sir William Blackstone (1723-1780) wrote Commentaries on the Law of England that served as the foundational text for law students in early America. He argued that human law must be consistent with divine law, which is revealed in nature and Scripture. Blackstone believed that judges were the depositories of this law, living oracles, and obligated by an oath to decide every case according to the common law of England.

Among the principles of this law is that judges and other officials must be impartial. It is unethical for them to act with bias or favoritism in their decision-making. Moreover, it is against the law to give aid or encouragement to political parties in exchange for votes.

The current conception of the legal principle of arbitrary and capricious review of agency actions focuses on whether an agency has given adequate reasons for its decisions. This approach reflects a view that law should be understood as a tool to serve external goals like resource allocation efficiency and moral justice. This article criticizes this view and argues that it can lead to misunderstandings about the law of the market, promoting harmful asymmetric incentives in the marketplace. The article suggests an alternative approach to understanding the law of the market.