The Study of Law
Law is a set of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate human behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate. Nevertheless, law is one of the most important and complex aspects of society, and it provides a rich source of scholarly inquiry in history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology. In addition, law raises a host of ethical and moral questions about the nature of justice and the proper allocation of privileges and burdens in society.
The study of law involves exploring how a particular culture or nation conceives of the law, and how that conception shapes and is shaped by the laws themselves. One central question concerns the nature of law, and whether there are universal characteristics of law that can be identified and explained. Another key question is what, if any, role coercion plays in the law. Early legal theorists like Hans Kelsen argued that it is necessary for laws to be enforceable in order for them to serve their functions, but twentieth century scholars like H.L.A Hart and Joseph Raz have argued that coercion is not essential for the existence of laws, and that the functions they serve can be fulfilled in other ways, such as through voluntary compliance.
A third question concerns the relative importance of the various functions of the law. Some, such as John Austin, argue that the primary function of the law is to promote social change through the threat of punishment, while others, such as Richard Posner and Joshua Greenberg, argue that the legal system can serve other, more valuable, functions, such as maintaining the status quo and protecting minority rights.
Finally, many scholars examine the way that laws are created and implemented in a particular culture or country. This largely concerns how the law is framed, and it includes questions about the structure of the legal system, such as how power is divided between the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government.
The most well-known types of law include criminal, civil and administrative. Criminal law deals with conduct that is considered harmful to social order, and it provides for punishment through fines or imprisonment. Civil law deals with lawsuits between individuals or organizations. Administrative law, which is largely an academic field, deals with the regulatory structures of different industries, such as utilities, banking and finance.
The study of law is a vital and complex part of our understanding of a society, and it is not without its controversy. Ultimately, however, disagreements about the nature of law are usually not about what the law is, but rather about when it is or is not the case that something counts as law. This debate is thus, in some sense, semantic, and it may be that, at the end of the day, legal practitioners all possess a shared concept of law. This, in turn, makes the debates about what that concept consists of all the more important and worthwhile.