Law is a system of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate human behavior. Its precise definition has been a matter of debate for centuries. Some have described it as an art or science, others as a means of controlling society, and still others as a way to meet the needs of humanity.
Law has many functions, but it is most often seen as a system of rules to ensure a safe and peaceful society. In addition, it ensures the rights of people and provides a framework for dispute resolution. It is also used to punish those who break the rules.
Most countries have a system of laws, which vary considerably from country to country. The nature of these laws depends on the political landscape and the way in which authority is exercised in a given country. Various theories of the origin and nature of law have been advanced, including Max Weber’s theory of civil society, which argues that the modern extension of state power to control daily life poses special problems that previous writers such as Locke or Montesquieu did not anticipate.
The primary function of law is to claim and exercise legitimate authority. Any particular legal system may fail in this regard, but it is essential that law claim legitimacy as a social institution. This approach to the normativity of law was elaborated by Joseph Raz, who argued that law is a form of authority that must claim legitimacy as such, even though it may fail in some respects to do so (Raz 1994).
Some critics have attacked the assumption that there is a fundamental normative aspect to law. The most famous of these is J. L. Austin’s reductionist account, which maintains that the normative aspect of law simply consists in the fact that subjects are motivated to obey rules in order to avoid sanctions. This view has been criticized, most notably by H.L.A. Hart, who argues that this predictive interpretation obscures the fact that deviations from the rules are not only predicted to result in hostile reactions but also deemed to be reasons or justifications for reacting in such a way.
Other critics of the normative concept of law argue that law cannot be understood in terms of a desire to avoid sanctions, but that it is a morally important feature of society. This view is supported by a range of ideas from philosophers such as Immanuel Kant and G.E. Moore, and is incorporated in the philosophical school of natural law.