Law is a set of rules or principles that governs people and their interactions. It shapes politics, economics, history and society in many ways and serves as a mediator of relations between people. Some legal systems serve a range of different purposes, such as maintaining social peace and the status quo, preserving individual rights and freedoms, protecting minorities against majorities, promoting social justice and providing orderly social change. However, these different functions may conflict with each other and the aims of certain political regimes may be at odds with those of a legal system.
The law can take various forms, from a simple statute to a complex regulation, a court judgment to a legislative decree. For example, contract law deals with legally binding agreements, tort law with civil wrongs (such as negligence or defamation), and property law regulates ownership of land and other assets. Other areas of law include competition law (as in the U.S. antitrust laws of the early 20th century) and consumer law (as in regulations on unfair contractual terms and clauses).
Legal theory attempts to address issues related to the nature and role of the law. One major issue is the problem of objectivity. The law is a moral and ethical concept, and it has normative as well as prescriptive elements. It is therefore difficult to establish its true content empirically, for example, by showing that all judges should follow the same law.
Several theories of law have been developed, ranging from the modern theory of the rule of law by Max Weber to more traditional ideas of natural law and social contracts by John Locke and Montesquieu. Contemporary law theory also incorporates a range of influences from disciplines such as philosophy, sociology, psychology and economics.
The law is also an area of ongoing debate and controversy. Some legal scholars, for instance, argue that the prevailing notions of the law are outdated and that a new approach is needed. Other scholars question the role of the law in the modern world and point to indigenous cultures that have a different conception of law.