What is Law?


Law is the system of rules a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members. It encompasses many different fields of law including administrative, civil, corporate, criminal, employment, international, family and tort law, as well as major debates in legal theory. Oxford Reference offers more than 34,000 concise definitions and in-depth, specialist encyclopedic entries across this broad discipline.

One of the most important aspects of law is that it is a social and/or governmental mechanism for regulating human conduct. This regulation can be achieved through legislation, judicial decisions, or custom. It can also be enforced through a variety of punishment mechanisms, for example fines or imprisonment.

In this context, a legal right is a claim or entitlement to something (or to prevent someone else from doing something). Rights are typically associated with the law of obligations and include claims in personam and powers in rem. Rights in personam are those that designate a particular right-object, such as Joseph’s claim to his good name. Rights in rem, on the other hand, designate a specific legal norm that is owed to a right-holder, such as the legal obligation to pay compensation for damage to someone’s property.

Sir William Blackstone, whose Commentaries on the Laws of England served as a basis for America’s early jurisprudence, believed that there were four types of law: natural law, the law of revelation (Scripture), municipal law (human law) and divine law. These four laws all derive their authority from the same principles of reason and are correlatively liable to each other, much as Boyle’s law describes an invariable relationship among gases under certain conditions.