Law is the set of rules and principles governing a community and enforced by a political authority. It also refers to the condition of social order and justice that is brought about by adherence to such rules. Law can be created by a collective legislature, resulting in statutes, or by the executive through decrees and regulations. It can also be interpreted and established through legal precedent, as in common law jurisdictions. It can also be codified in constitutions, written or tacit, and in a variety of other documents including contracts, treaties and agreements. It can cover a wide range of subjects, from criminal and civil to family, property, and international and business law.
The study of law has a long history and is an important subject in legal education and practice, the social sciences, philosophy, and economic analysis. It is a major source of scholarly inquiry into legal history, political philosophy, and social policy, and raises complex issues of equality, fairness, and justice.
Because it deals with the structure of a society, it is particularly important in determining how people interact with one another and with nature. It is a powerful force in the social evolution of humanity. Its influence can be positive or negative, depending on the intentions of those who create and enforce it.
Unlike most other scientific disciplines, laws have both descriptive and prescriptive qualities. The former is the result of observing the behavior of a group of individuals, while the latter describes what people ought to do or not do in a given situation. In this way, normative statements of law have a different character than descriptive or causal statements in empirical science (such as the law of gravity) or even in social science (such as the law of demand and supply).
The purpose of the law is to establish standards, maintain order, resolve disputes, and protect liberties and rights. Some legal systems serve these purposes better than others. For example, an authoritarian state may keep the peace and preserve the status quo, but it may also oppress minorities or its own political opponents. In a democratic society, the purpose of the law is to promote orderly social change and protect human freedoms and rights.