Law and Morality

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Law does not exist in a vacuum and it rejects, to some extent, the moral codes in society. Laws are rules made by parliament or the courts and applied by the state. Morality is based on what people believe to be acceptable. However there is no fixed morality as different societies have different rules on what is acceptable behaviour, depending on factors such as culture and religion. Sometimes moral rules can become law through the courts or parliament; then the rules can be enforced by the court and legal penalties can be imposed for breaking the rules. One of the issues here is the connection between crime and sin and the extent to which the criminal law should become involved in the private lives of individuals to enforce moral beliefs.

There is a significant overlap between morality and law as both are based on rules, or ‘norms’. Crimes such as murder, robbery and **** are generally held to be both immoral and illegal. Moral rules can arise over time through custom or beliefs and may be enforced by community, family or church. Legal rules may become law through the courts or through parliament and they are enforced by the courts and penalties can be imposed for breaking the rules. This relationship can be illustrated by the example of how it is now illegal to smoke in a public building, so no-one can do so. When it was purely a moral issue people could smoke in church or the classroom, but it didn’t because they would be subject to the disapproval the community.

The relationship of law to morals is sometimes seen as two interlocking circles with the part inside the intersections representing the common ground and the parts outside representing areas which are either law or morals. Examples where law and morals coincide or interlock are murder, theft and ****. Examples where the law seems to have little moral significance are strict liability offences. Examples where moral issues have little or no legal significance are areas of sexual immorality like adultery. The law often has difficulty in taking a moral position due to the existence of conflicting moral views in a pluralistic society where the law is often based on principles other than morality.

Moral rules have been described as ‘ought not to’ rules whereas legal rules are described as ‘must not’ rules. The starting date is clear for legal rules but not moral ones. Legal rules are enforced through the police and courts; by the way of sentencing and remedies whereas moral codes are not legally enforceable, through they may be enforced through the disapproval of society. Legal rules can be changed relatively easily whereas morality develops gradually over time. Legal rules apply to everyone whereas moral rules are voluntary and are not universally applicable.

A supporter of natural law sees law and morals as interlinked whereas a positivist sees the two as separate. Positivism is the philosophy that law can be based on morality, but it is no


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