Law is a framework of rules that provides a way for people to interact peacefully and solve problems. The laws are enforced by the state using mechanisms that vary from nation to nation. Laws are made by governments or other political entities and can be changed by those same entities. Some laws are based on religious precepts, such as Jewish Halakhah and Islamic Shari’ah, while others rely on further human elaboration such as interpretative reasoning, Qiyas (reasoning by analogy) and Ijma (consensus). Laws can be written or oral and are often communicated through legal journals.
A broad range of topics fall under the umbrella term “law,” ranging from contracts and property to employment and criminal justice. Contract law governs agreements to exchange goods or services and is the basis for such activities as buying a car, renting an apartment and investing in securities. Property law encompasses ownership rights in tangible assets such as land and buildings, as well as intangible assets like bank accounts and shares of stock. Laws governing labour and employment include such matters as collective bargaining, worker safety and the right to strike. Criminal law covers offenses against a nation-state, its citizens and private individuals; it is enforceable by the state through police and judicial action.
Among the many areas of law, some fields are more complex than others. For example, competition law is a broad field that incorporates such issues as antitrust regulation, monopoly and cartel legislation and other related issues, such as consumer protection laws. Consumer law, on the other hand, includes such issues as unfair contractual terms and conditions, food labeling regulations and airline baggage policies.
There are also some areas of law that deal with a very specific aspect of society, such as family law and taxation. Immigration and nationality law focus on a person’s rights to live in a country that is not their own, the right of asylum and the problem of stateless individuals. Family law covers marriage and divorce proceedings and the rights of children. Taxation law concerns the taxation of people and businesses and is overseen by a branch of government called the Internal Revenue Service.
The law reflects the cultural and social values of a nation, so there is a strong link between a society’s philosophy and its laws. Consequently, there is a great deal of debate about the nature and purpose of law; a good example is the recurrent debate about whether judges should be allowed to make judicial decisions that are contrary to a law or statute. These discussions are usually based on a deeper level of complexity that deals with the issue of how one’s own beliefs and sense of what is morally right or wrong can be used to influence the law. This is a subject that is the source of much interesting and provocative debate. For more information see Law, philosophy of.