Law is a framework of rules, established and enforced by social or governmental institutions, that regulates human interactions. Whether it defines people’s rights and duties toward tangible property, such as land or buildings; intangible property, such as money and shares; or intellectual property, such as the work of an author or an invention, laws govern all parts of our daily lives.
A core principle of law is that no individual can become above it. It is the basis for James Madison’s famous quote in The Federalist Papers: “The only way to prevent tyranny is by a system of checks and balances.” Our judicial system of separation of powers, with legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government each exercising some level of control over the other two, is one of these mechanisms.
Other examples of legal rules include contract law, which regulates agreements to exchange anything of value; criminal law, which determines the punishment for conduct that violates society’s norms; civil law, which addresses lawsuits between individuals or organizations; and statutory law, which sets out the general conditions for a particular area of life (such as taxes, bankruptcy, or transport law).
Philosophy of law is distinctive from other fields because its theories are of both a descriptive and prescriptive nature. As such, they are less susceptible to the same kinds of errors as normative statements in empirical science (such as a law of gravity) or social science (such as a law of demand and supply). There is, however, a great deal of debate about how much this specialized framework should influence the decision-making process of those who practise it.