Law is a system of rules created by social or governmental institutions to regulate behavior. Its precise definition has been the subject of much debate and many books have been written containing diverse ideas and opinions. One common theme, however, is that it consists of commands that the state issues to individuals and sanctions that may be imposed if the commands are violated.
Law also has a normative dimension which distinguishes it from empirical domains, such as natural science (as with the law of gravity) or even social sciences (as with the law of demand and supply in economics). This aspect of the law is what gives rise to controversy over whether the nature of law can be reduced to some more fundamental set of facts without falling into an error of principle.
The most important controversies about the nature of law involve questions concerning its normative character. In the past, many philosophers have assumed that the law’s normative character stemmed from its coercive aspect, i.e., the fact that it can impose its practical demands on people by using threats of violence or other coercive measures. More recent legal positivists, such as H.L.A. Hart and Joseph Raz, have tended to deny this claim, asserting that while the coercive characteristic of the law is a prominent feature of it, it is not central to its ability to fulfill its social functions.
A further source of controversies about the nature of law concerns how law differs from other normative domains such as morality, religion, or social conventions. Among other things, this question raises the question of whether the law’s intelligibility depends on such factors.
Another important issue concerns the extent to which the law can be reshaped by the activities of its users. While this has long been a topic of debate, it is generally accepted that the law is in some sense a living entity, and that changes in the way that individuals use it can affect its structure and content. This is a significant reason why many efforts are being made to develop computer programs for analyzing legal rules and making predictions about how they will be applied in different situations. It is hoped that these programs will provide useful tools for legal scholars and practitioners in the future. A similar project in the field of legal theory involves the development of computer-based emulation software for legal decision-making, called “lawsim.” This technology allows computers to perform tasks traditionally done by lawyers, such as reading and organizing large amounts of text and drawing inferences from it. It is hoped that this technology will make it easier to understand complex laws and improve the efficiency of legal research. In addition, it has the potential to increase the number of law students and professionals who can be trained and retained in the United States. This will be a significant benefit to the country’s economy. The emergence of such software has been accelerated by the growing reliance on the Internet for information and the increasing prevalence of electronic records.