The law is a system of rules enforceable by social or governmental institutions to regulate behaviour. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate. It has been variously described as a science and an art of justice. The Greek Philosopher Aristotle observed that “the law is not always wise, but it guards the administration of justice from the errors of individual judgement”.
The purpose of law is generally considered to be ensuring social justice. This may be achieved by means of distributive justice, in which social benefits and burdens are distributed fairly, or corrective justice, in which wrongs are remedied. In addition, the law can serve other purposes in society such as preserving the peace, maintaining the status quo, protecting minorities against majorities and enabling social change to occur.
Many laws are written in the form of statutes, while others are established through custom and policy. Those that are based on custom and policy are known as common law, while those that are created by the legislature are called civil law or statutory law. In the modern world, there are numerous areas of law, including civil law, criminal law, labor law, tax law, corporate law, international law and space law.
Several characteristics distinguish law from other forms of authority, such as the principles of natural justice and natural morality. For example, the law cannot impose behaviours that are impossible or force people to do things beyond their capabilities. This is because the law reflects the shape of the physical world and the limitations inherent in human mental activity.
Another important feature of the law is that it is not subjective. A judge is bound by the law when making a decision, and therefore cannot take personal preference or favouritism into account. The law is also objective, in that it does not vary according to the individual’s rank or position in society.
The origin of law is usually attributed to the need for societies to control behaviour. This can be seen in the development of the laws of war, which seek to ensure that conflict is not started or escalated unnecessarily. Other reasons for the need for laws include regulating the economy and preventing the abuse of power. This can be seen in the laws that govern the financial and banking industries, or those that regulate utilities such as electricity, gas and water. Other laws govern activities in outer space and in the field of telecommunications, as well as the treatment of animals. Finally, there is the law of the land, which relates to property and ownership. The process of creating a law begins when a member of the House or Senate sponsors a bill. This bill is then assigned to a committee for study and, if released, can be debated and voted on. If the bill is passed, it moves to the Senate, where a conference committee works out any differences between the Senate version of the bill and the House version.