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3/14/2016

LawandMorality

BasicObservationsonLawandMorality
Mostrecentalteration:September10,2001
Atfirstthereseemstobenodistinctionbetweenlawandmorality.Thereare
passagesinancientGreekwriters,forexample,whichseemtosuggestthatthe
goodpersonistheonewhowilldowhatislawful.Itisthelawgivers,inthese
earlysocieties,whodeterminewhatisrightandwrong.
Butitisnotlongbeforethoughtfulpeoplerecognizethedifferencebetween
whatisactuallylegal,orlegallyrightaccordingtothepoliticalauthoritiesand
whatshouldbelegal.Whatshouldbelegalroughlycorrespondstowhatis
reallyrightorjust,thatis,whatwewouldcallmorallyright.Wefind,for
instance,thedistinctionbetweenwhatislegallyorconventionallyrightand
whatisnaturally(oraswewouldsaytodaymorally)right.
Sometimesthisisexpressedasanoppositionbetweenwhatthegodscommand
(i.e.,whatismorallyright)andwhatthepoliticalauthoritiescommand(i.e.,
whatislegallyright).ThisisdramaticallyillustratedinSophocles'tragedy
Antigone,inwhichtheheroinedefiesthedecreeoftheking(thesourceof
"legalright"inthecircumstances)andburiesherbrothers(anacttheaudience
wouldassumewasmorallyright).
Thecontrastbetweenwhatthestatedemandsandwhatthegodsdemandisnot
theonlywaythatthislegalv.moraldistinctionisexpressed.Wefinditalsoin
theimportantGreekphilosophers,whofrequentlydiscussthedistinctionin
termsofappearanceandreality,orbetweenwhatsuperficiallyseemsorappears
tobethecaseandwhatathoroughrationalinvestigationreveals.
Plato,forexample,holdsthatknowledgeofwhatisjustormoral,andthe
abilitytodistinguishtruejusticeormoralityfromwhatismerelyapparently
justdependsonthefulldevelopmentanduseofhumanreason.Accordingto
Plato,thereisaverycloseconnectionbetweentruejusticeormoralityand
humanwellbeingorflourishing.Legalandpoliticalarrangementsthatdepart
toofarfromtruejusticeshould,ifpossible,bereplacedbyarrangementsthat
betterpromotejusticeandthuswellbeing.
Ethics,therefore,hasclaimedarighttocriticizelegalarrangementsand
recommendchangestothem.Manydebatesaboutthelaw,whentheyarenot
merelydebatesabouthowlegalprecedentmechanicallyappliesinaparticular
situation,arealsoethicaldebates.
Let'ssummarizetherelationshipbetweenmoralityandlaw.
(1)Theexistenceofunjustlaws(suchasthoseenforcingslavery)provesthat
moralityandlawarenotidenticalanddonotcoincide.
http://people.wku.edu/jan.garrett/320/320lawmo.htm

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3/14/2016

LawandMorality

(2)Theexistenceoflawsthatservetodefendbasicvaluessuchaslaws
againstmurder,rape,maliciousdefamationofcharacter,fraud,bribery,etc.
provethatthetwocanworktogether.
(3)Lawscanstatewhatovertoffensescountaswrongandtherefore
punishable.Althoughlawcourtsdonotalwaysignoreaperson'sintentionor
stateofmind,thelawcannotnormallygovern,atleastnotinadirectway,what
isinyourheart(yourdesires).Becauseoftenmoralitypassesjudgmentona
person'sintentionsandcharacter,ithasadifferentscopethanthelaw.
(4)Lawsgovernconductatleastpartlythroughfearofpunishment.Morality,
whenitisinternalized,whenithasbecomehabitlikeorsecondnature,governs
conductwithoutcompulsion.Thevirtuouspersondoestheappropriatething
becauseitisthefineornoblethingtodo.
(5)Moralitycaninfluencethelawinthesensethatitcanprovidethereasonfor
makingwholegroupsofimmoralactionsillegal.
(6)Lawcanbeapublicexpressionofmoralitywhichcodifiesinapublicway
thebasicprinciplesofconductwhichasocietyaccepts.Inthatwayitcanguide
theeducatorsofthenextgenerationbygivingthemaclearoutlineofthevalues
societywantstaughttoitschildren.

http://people.wku.edu/jan.garrett/320/320lawmo.htm

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