Oxford Reference – The Science of Law

Law is the system of rules that a society or government adopts to govern its people, businesses and relationships. It includes a range of specific topics such as criminal law, which deals with the punishment of certain behaviours that threaten social stability, or civil law, which settles disputes between individuals. Law also encompasses wider legal issues such as the principles of justice and the administration of the state.

Legal systems differ, and are influenced by the history, philosophy and culture of particular countries and communities. For example, the law of a nation may be determined by its religion or by the constitution and political structure. Law is also shaped by economic analysis and sociology, and forms the subject of much scholarly study.

The main functions of law are to keep the peace, maintain a stable status quo, protect the rights of minorities against majorities and promote social justice. Some laws are more effective in achieving these functions than others. For instance, an authoritarian government may keep the peace and maintain the status quo, but it may oppress minorities or prevent democratic change.

The complexities of law require many different fields of expertise to examine it in detail. Oxford Reference offers expert-authored entries on all the major areas of law, covering key terms, concepts, processes and history, and relating them to wider debates in legal theory. The articles are designed to help researchers at every level. For further reading, see the related articles on legal profession; and legal education; and the article on Law, science of.