Ethics, Morals and Law

Morality without law

The sole purpose of law is to provide a system of do’s and don’ts in order to guide human being in their behaviour and to protect them from doing harm to persons and property. Some laws have less moral import (For e.g. Legalisation of Betting) than others (For e.g. Laws against Killing) that does mean morality can be equated with law and vice versa.

Taking the case of Ethics in private relationship wherein instances of marital rapes are rampant, particularly in India, though it’s legal but against the basic tenets of morality. Similarly, the question of adultery in marriage is beyond the scope of law that can only be dealt in the framework of morality. Since, there is no way a law can regulate someone’s desire for another man’s wife as long as the adulterous act is never carried out.

This indicates that morality is not necessarily based on law. It does mean that a moral society could be formed without having sound legal system or law should be eliminated from human affairs. It attempts to argue that law is not a necessary attribute of morality. However, role of law is quite crucial in enforcing morality through a system of reward or punishment.

Laws without morality

All laws are more or less derived from morality which provides the reasons behind laws enacted to govern human being. For instance, laws against killing and stealing are based on Divine command theory. It is unimaginable to think about a law which doesn’t concern morality.

Law and Morality

  • Law is the public codification of morality which dictates moral way of behaviour for every member in the society. For Example, Indecency (Prostitution) in public space is strictly prohibited.
  • Law sanctions moral behaviours. For example, Whistle blower Protection Act aims to protect those who expose corruption in public office.
  • Unjust laws can’t be rectified through more laws and regulations but requires valid moral reasoning. For instance, Instead of making various regulations to protect Right to Privacy, Hon’ble Supreme Court declared it as Fundamental right.
  • Law sanctions morality but it cannot replace or be a substitute for morality. For instance, Probity in Public life can’t be enforced through legal mechanism, it requires cultivation of moral values at personal level.
  • Without morality, law framework is immaterial or insignificant. For instance, legalisation of Slavery never did well to anyone and resulted into Civil wars in many countries across the world.

Ethics and law

There are various views on the relationship between ethics and law. Some of them are as follows;

  • Law is used as a device to enforce the ethical views of a society (Customary morality). Law abiding citizens are those who behave in a way that is ethically acceptable in the society.

       Objections to this view 

    • In a multi-cultural society (e.g. Indian society), there is an insufficient agreement on ethical issues (e.g. Non-veg foods) for the law to enforce anything that can be seen as an ethical consensus.
    • Law permits behaviour that many people consider ethically unacceptable – gambling, high-pressure selling and arms dealing.
  • Law should not be exploited in order to enforce ethical behaviours rather it should ensure maximum permissible liberty for the citizens. If law doesn’t intend to promote liberty and too restrictive in nature, it can be regarded as unethical. For instance, Population control laws which attempts to arrest population growth through coercive means instead of this people should be made aware with family planning techniques and given freedom to decide, how many kids they want to produce.
  • Law is not an appropriate instrument to make judgements on critical ethical concerns. Taking the case of legalising “Misleading truth” (Read about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky sexual scandal) which is prevalent in public administration wherein Public officials exploit the loopholes in laws (Driven by malicious intention) in their own interest. Though this is an ethical concern but laws can’t be made to punish the public servants for their malicious intentions.