The Definition of Law


Law is a set of rules that govern human behavior, and is an important factor in politics, economics, history and society. The precise definition of law is a matter of debate.

Laws can be made by a government or by private individuals. The most common types of laws are statutes and codes.

Statutes are formal laws passed by legislative bodies such as the U.S. Congress and state legislatures, with most case law involving the interpretation and application of those laws by courts. Codes are more arranged than statutes, and may be used as a guide to the law by lawyers.

Codes often contain detailed statutory histories of the legislation that has been enacted, arranged by subject rather than chronology. The United States Code is a compilation of all federal laws.

Constitutions are written or tacit, encoded with the rights and principles that form the basis of a nation’s legal system. These include, for example, the right of the people to a fair trial.

There are many different theories as to the function of law, and the most commonly endorsed is that it should be a naturalistic science, reflective of the fundamental moral truths that a people accept as true. Positivists, however, argue that the rules that have been enacted by a government are the only sources of law and that no other aspects of morality or philosophy are part of law.

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