The law is a body of rules enacted by social or governmental institutions to regulate behaviour. Its precise contents are a matter of controversy, but it is clear that it comprises precepts concerning what people ought or should not do. Thus, it has a normative rather than descriptive character, and, unlike other scientific disciplines (as the law of gravity) or even social science (as the law of demand and supply), it cannot be empirically verified.
Various fields of law address the application, interpretation and development of laws. Tort law, for example, provides compensation when someone is harmed by others’ conduct – such as car accidents or defamation of character – while criminal law addresses behaviour deemed harmful to the community, with the guilty punished. Civil law, meanwhile, covers lawsuits and disputes between individuals and organisations. International law focuses on relations between nations and is usually addressed through treaties.
Moreover, the law shapes politics, economics and history in many other ways. It is a source of much scholarly enquiry, with legal historians and philosophers discussing the development and nature of law and legal systems, while sociologists study its impact on social structure. In addition, it raises ethical issues concerning the nature of power and justice. Legal theorists, such as Max Weber, have reshaped thinking about the extent to which the state can exercise authority over individual citizens’ daily lives. This extends to the policing of crime, the allocation of resources and the regulation of business and money matters.