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Definition of Law

What is Law?

It is necessary to know the definition of the subject and to know the boundaries and scope of it to understand it completely. But it is easy to explain the term “Law” rather than to define it. There are many difficulties in defining the term ‘Law’. So what exactly is Law? What is definition of Law?

Suggested books for the topic

Dynamic in nature:

It is not static, but dynamic. Law changes from people to people, society to society and time to time. It is necessary for the law to evolve as the basic purpose of the law is to maintain peace and harmony in society and between people. The need for people to change and so the law needs to evolve for the most efficient use of it. As it is rightly said that law is a social science and society changes with place and time and to serve the society law also needs to change. From time to time new problem comes, for example, Cyber Crime, Space pollution. To cover all the aspects law also has to develop and change with the changing problem. Law is not the end but it is meant to an end.

Different characteristics of Law:

Law is always there, from the ancient civilization to the new emerging globalized world. It always existed in one form or the other. The term ‘law’ include and mean the different thing in different societies. ‘Dharma’ of Hindu law is different from ‘ Hukum’ of Islamic law and it is different from ‘Droit’ in French. Thus the perfect definition of law should include all the characteristics.

There are the different explanation for the same thing:

The explanation differs from person to person and it may be seen from the different angle, and one angle does not take the view of the other. For a lawyer, the parameter of law is largely about cases. On the other hand, it is all about justice to be done in good conscience. Law is defined by different jurists on basis of its ‘nature’, ‘sources’ and in term of effect in the society and unless all the elements are taken into consideration it will not make a perfect definition of law.

Because of the reasons above it is difficult to give a single and universally acceptable definition of law.

No universally accepted definition:

As of now there is no definition that is universally accepted. Jurists have made effort to define it on the basis of ‘nature’ ‘source’ ‘effect’ ‘purpose’ and other factors.

Society is one of the major factor in explaining the law. Law tells people what they should and must do and what they must not do. For example law tells people that they should not hurt people and if they do they will be punished. In the same way even society tells us what to do and what not to do. If we do not obey society looks down on us. For example o respect elders.

Law is a social science and to keep up with the change in society it has to change thus there can be no perfect definition of law because of the every changing society.

Definition By different Jurists

Different jurists have given different definition of law based on the time and society they lived in. They are classified in schools of jurisprudence. They include

  1. Idealistic school
  2. Positivist school
  3. Socialist school

Idealist school of law

The underlying principle of idealism is that reality is largely an extension of mental processes, which are the true reality. Idealism proposes that ideas are universal and eternal, unlike physical objects, which are subject to the alteration of the forces of nature. Idealism can be categorized into three main sections: classical, modern, and religious.

Hindu view: Hindu considered law to be command of the god and not of any sovereign. The ruler is also bound by the law and must obey the law.

Salmond: “Law is a body of principles recognized and applied by the state to administer justice, limited to court and useful to lawyers.” There are two main implication of it. First, to understand law one should understand it’s purpose. Second, to ascertain the true nature of law one should go to the court

Positivist school

Legal positivism is the legal philosophy which argues that any and all laws are nothing more and nothing less than simply the expression of the will of whatever authority created them. Thus, no laws can be regarded as expressions of higher morality or higher principles to which people can appeal when they disagree with the laws. It is a view that law is a social construction.

Austin: Law is the command of the sovereign backed by sanction. Thus the elements included are Command, Sovereign, Duty, and Sanction. They are set by the politically superior men to politically inferior.

Sociological school

Jurists belonging to this school of thought are concerned more with the working of law rather than its abstract content. Their principal premises is that the law must be studied in action and not in textbooks. They have been at work upon jurisprudence with reference to the adjustment of relations and ordering of human conduct which is involved in group life. They are concerned with the study of law in relation to society.

Roscoe Pound: A social institution to satisfy social wants. He gave 5 Jurual postulates.

Ehrlich: All the norms which govern social life within a given society.


It is important to taken note that these definitions are not the ultimate or perfect definitions. The jurists gave definition of only the legal system they knew about and not of the other. The time has changed and so does the ‘sovereignty’ and ‘state’ have been changed and thus these definitions cannot apply universally.

To give the definition of law the analysis of various legal concepts against various disciplines like sociology, political science, history, psychology, economics is need to be done with the element of logic and practicality, to meet the ends of justice.

The rules of common sense, equality and good conscience have been developed by the cases like Maneka Gandhi Vs UOI AIR 1978 SC 597


Books Referred: Jurisprudence

The legal theory by B.N. Mani Tripathi

Studies in Jurisprudence and Legal theory by Dr. N.V. paranjape


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