Law is a system of rules governing the behavior of individuals and groups in society. Its precise nature is the subject of a long-running debate, but its principal functions are setting standards, maintaining order, resolving disputes, and protecting liberties and rights. The coercive aspect of law is important, but not central to these other functions.
Laws govern people and their interactions with each other, whether it’s the contract law that regulates the exchange of goods or services or the property law that determines one’s rights to personal possessions such as cars and houses. The legal system also ensures that public officials and police follow the rules and respect the rights of the citizens they serve.
The study of laws is called jurisprudence and encompasses both a theoretical understanding of the law and its practical application. Theories of law aim to provide a systematic account of the law, with its concept, context, and validity. They may be based on empirical, philosophical, or theoretical approaches.
For example, an empirical approach seeks to identify the underlying social facts that give rise to the law, while a philosophical view seeks to analyze the concepts and beliefs about the law that people share. There are also views that combine these two approaches, which are sometimes referred to as theoretical and practical. A theory of law may posit that the law is morally good, for example. This would imply that a certain set of ethical principles must be followed to make the law morally legitimate.