Law is the set of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition is a matter of longstanding debate. One school of thought perceives law as a means to resolve disputes and provide structure to society. Another view sees law as a tool for exploitation by the ruling class over the working class. It is believed that revolution is the only way to end this oppression. In any case, the role of the legal system is to ensure that individuals understand what their rights are and where they stand in relation to other citizens.
Legal systems vary significantly between countries and continents. There is a general distinction between civil law jurisdictions, which are found in most western nations, and common law countries, which use judge-made precedent as a basis for their laws. Civil law is based on concepts, categories and rules largely derived from Roman law and sometimes supplemented or modified by local custom or culture. Common law, on the other hand, is based on judge-made precedent and a broad interpretation of the word “right” which is defined as what the individual believes to be fair in their situation.
The most controversial issue in law is whether or not it should comprise precepts that are impossible for people to achieve. It is not possible to prove that this is or isn’t the case, since it depends on human minds and how they work. However, there is an implicit assumption that the law should not impose behaviours which are wildly beyond the scope of human capabilities.
Another controversy surrounds the role of the courts in interpreting the law. The courts are often criticized for being too subjective or biased and for not always applying the law fairly. The courts are also criticized for not always taking into account the impact on a person’s life and liberty, and for imposing excessive punishment.
Other issues that are raised by the study of law include legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology. The legal profession, law students and the relationship of law to political structures are also topics for scholarly inquiry.
The law works best when it can be mapped closely onto the members of the society’s norms of fairness and common sense. This makes it more likely that the law will be upheld. It is therefore important that the legal system tries to make its laws as transparent as possible so that they are more easily understood and accepted by the public. A formal requirement that law must be universal in character, rather than aimed at specific individuals, is one way of doing this. However, this does not guarantee justice and should not be seen as a substitute for the need to address inequality in society. For example, a law that requires all persons of African descent to sit in the back of a bus is not considered fair or just. A more effective approach would be to address inequality directly by changing the power imbalance that exists between the rich and poor.