Law is a system of rules created and enforced by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. It is often distinguished from natural or moral law in that it involves a process of authoritative, objective creation rather than revelation. The concept of law is also contrasted with that of justice, which focuses on the weighing and determination of facts and evidence in disputes between individuals. The subjects of law are broad and varied and include contract, tort, property, constitutional, criminal, civil, and administrative law.
Some philosophers have characterized law as a complex social science or art. Others have focused on the practical importance of law and the problems that arise in its application.
The philosophical debate about law has included discussions of legal ethics, the legal profession and legal education, the nature of legal authority, and the relationship of law to political structures and systems. The social significance of law has included considerations of the extent to which people are treated equally, the ability of individuals to settle their disputes with others and challenge abuses of public power, and legal mechanisms that provide checks on governmental power.
In modern society, the practical aspect of law has included the development of procedures for the training and certification of lawyers, the establishment of a national legal system, and the growth of private law firms and public interest organizations. The law has also been influenced by the rise of globalization and changes in the structure of governments and economies.
Some basic concepts of law are as follows:
precedent – A previous case with similar factual circumstances that guides the decision of a new dispute unless a court determines it was wrongly decided.
discovery – The examination, before trial, of the facts and documents in possession of opponents to help the lawyers prepare for the case.
indictment – A formal charge that there is sufficient evidence to justify holding a person for trial on a felony offense.
quorum – The minimum number of judges required to convene and conduct a legal proceeding. Quorum is usually established in statutes or by court rules. When a court of appeals or other court holds a session with its entire membership, it is said to be sitting en banc.
statute – A written law passed by a legislative body.
constitutional law – The body of laws establishing the principles and procedures for the operation of a government and the protection of its citizens’ rights.
judicial review – The process whereby the Supreme Court or other highest courts examine federal and state statutes, rules, or administrative decisions for constitutionality.
law of the land – The general principles that govern the ownership, use, and transfer of property.
The law also encompasses special areas such as family, labor, evidence, and bankruptcy law. A major area of controversy in contemporary societies has been the extension of governmental and military power over daily life, and philosophers have discussed different ways to balance this power with accountability and democratic controls.