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Relationship Between Ethics and Law

Relationship Between Ethics and Law

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Published by Nana Owusu Tagoe
this document evaluates the relationship between ethics and law.
this document evaluates the relationship between ethics and law.

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Published by: Nana Owusu Tagoe on Jun 18, 2012
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RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN ETHICS AND LAW
Ethics is a set of standards, or a code, or value system, worked out from human reasonand experience, by which free human actions are determined as ultimately right orwrong, good or evil. If acting agrees with these standards, it is ethical, otherwiseunethical.Law is a code of conduct which the authority in power prescribes for society. It basicallydiffers from ethics in its option to use force if and when necessary and by the fact that itis backed by power. Laws are, by and large, fair and moral. But it is not easy to acceptthat laws can be the foundations of ethics, or even that laws can ensure ethicalbehaviour.There are many situations in life, where just following the law does not make one ethical.For example, if a wealthy man intends to splash thousands of Ghana Cedis on theanniversary of his dog whiles his neighbour has no money to buy food and is beingejected from his home, there is no law to prohibit the wealthy man from doing so. If hedecides not to, it is because of the dictates of his conscience, not because of the dictatesof the law. His conscience, ethical value system and principles forbid him to rejoice whensomeone else nearby is in sorrow. The law has no role to play in such a situation.Moreover, not all laws have moral choice. There are many laws which do not involve anyethicality questions - for example, we are required to walk on the left hand side of theroad. This is done to ensure traffic control and the traffic discipline, but a question of ethics is not involved here. Again, all moral and ethical actions do not involve the law. For example, it is ethical tolove and respect your parents, but there is no law for it, except when they aredeliberately mistreated by their children. Law represents the minimum standards of behaviour expected from people. Merely following the law, does not make one ethical. Another aspect of the legal system is that it prohibits
 
us of certain actions. It also spellsout the negative consequences of our not following the law - that is legal punishment.However, ethical behaviour encourages us
 
to do certain things and explains the benefits,i.e., the positive aspects of these ethical behaviour. For example, the law tells us not tosteal, not to kill, but ethics tells us to do good, speak the truth, help others in distress.Thus there is a positive
 
aspect inherent in ethical behaviour, whereas the law is moreconcerned about negative
 
behaviour. Yet another aspect of the law is that ethics precedes the action, the law follows it. Ethics
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tells us what we should strive to develop in ourselves (high moral standards), on theother hand, law tends to be more concerned with the consequences of the negativeaction - what punishment would follow, who is guilty and how shall justice be done.Moreover, the law is a universally accepted, published document, whereas ethics do benot yet have a universally accepted, consistent and published concept - it is abstract,culture specific and left to the individual for interpretation and action.Some Laws
 
have nothing to do with morality because they do not involve seriousmatters. These include parking laws, dress codes and other laws covering similarmatters.Our moral standards are sometimes incorporated into the law, when enough of us feelthat a moral standard should be enforced by the pressures of a legal system. In contrast,laws are sometimes criticized and eliminated when it becomes clear that they blatantlyviolate our moral standards. Morality, therefore, has shaped and influenced many of thelaws we have.Most ethicists agree that all citizens have a moral obligation to obey the law so long asthe law does not require clearly unjust behaviour. This means that, in most cases, it isimmoral to break the law. Tragically, the obligation to obey the law can create terribleconflicts when the law requires something that the individual person believes is immoral.In such cases, a person will be faced with a conflict between the obligation to obey thelaw and the obligation to obey his or her conscience.In summary;
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 An action can be illegal, but morally right. For eg. A public officer, who is under theoath of secrecy, revealing certain sensitive information and documents which wouldserve the greater good of society to journalists.2.An action that is legal can be morally wrong. For example, it may have beenperfectly legal for the chairman of a profitable company to lay off 125 workers anduse three-quarters of the money saved to boost his pay and that of the company’sother top managers, but the morality of his doing so is open to debate.3.All legal provisions may not be ethical and some are, at best, debatable.4.All ethical actions are not governed by laws.5.Not all laws have moral choice.6.Laws are specific concepts, ethics is abstract.
7.
Laws represent the minimum standards of human behaviour; ethical behaviour
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