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Gifted_With_Languages's avatar

Should morality bear a role in legal accords?

Asked by Gifted_With_Languages (1112 points ) April 9th, 2014

We always use subjective terms (right and wrong, good and bad) when deciding if something should be legal or not, is this right or wrong?
Objectiveness sometimes depends on subjectiveness, you need a decision to act upon a fact, so what do you think?‎
Explain.

Thank you very much.

You’re the most inspiring people I’ve ever known in my life so far.

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8 Answers

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Morality is the social contract of behaviour in which a society, or culture, agrees upon in order to maintain stability. Laws are the result of that moral code, something to refer to when the code is enforced. The two are inseparable as morality gives birth to the laws of a culture. Sometimes when one culture confronts another on an ever-shrinking Earth, these morals clash and law is ignored, and the moral-legal relationship becomes glaringly apparent. There is no better example of this than the moral and legal cunundrum the British often found themselves in concerning the various cultures they confronted during the days of the Empire.

General Sir Charles James Napier, the Commander-in-Chief in India from 1859 to 1861 is often noted for a story involving Hindu priests complaining to him about the prohibition of Sati (the ritual of forced immolation of live widows upon the funeral pyres of their pre-deceased spouses) by British authorities. They insisted that, even under British colonial law at the time, the general had no authority over Hindu religious customs and Sati would continue. The general response is below:

“Be it so. This burning of widows is your custom; prepare the funeral pyre. But my nation has also a custom. When men burn women alive we hang them, and confiscate all their property. My carpenters shall therefore erect gibbets on which to hang all concerned when the widow is consumed. Let us all act according to national customs.”

The question of whether morality should play a role in international politics is quite moot, as our laws are a product of each of our cultures, the question become how can we pursue each or our cultural customs without conflict. This is tricky and requires all to reach new heights in diplomacy in this nuclear age.

gailcalled's avatar

^^ That is an unparalleled essay .

Are we really the most inspiring people you’ve ever known in your life so far, speaking of subjective terms?

elbanditoroso's avatar

What is morality? Whose morality? Whose belief system?

The problem with saying that something is “moral” or “immoral” is that those judgments are based entirely on subjective beliefs.

Sixty years ago, interracial marriage was “immoral”.

jerv's avatar

There are certain things that the vast majority of humans consider abhorrent regardless of religion, culture, or what-have-you; certain things that are universally considered immoral. That is part of why one of the important things in warfare is to dehumanize the enemy. We would never waterboard a human, but it’s okay to waterboard a Muslim. We would never kidnap a human and make them work our fields fot free, but it’s okay to do that to an African. Humans can marry, but homosexuals can’t.

We actually have a quite sound list of things we instinctively find repulsive to do to other humans. The problem comes in when you introduce morality that considers a particular demographic “non-human”. On the universal things like murder, rape, etcetera, morality should play a role in legality.

JLeslie's avatar

Of course. What shouldn’t be part of law is religion. Some people think religion and morality are synonymous but they aren’t. There is overlap, but they are not one and the same. I would argue morality influences laws and religion. Religion is in many ways a group of rules or laws to hopefully guide people to the best life for the individual and society. Or, what is thought to be best at the time of the writing.

rojo's avatar

Morality IS part of the legal system. If not for morality, why would we have laws in the first place?

jerv's avatar

@rojo Power, protection of wealth, exploitation…. I can think of a few reasons.

SavoirFaire's avatar

I suppose I will be the contrarian and suggest that morality has no place in the law. Murder is not illegal because it is immoral. It is illegal because we could not have a functioning society without it. Or at least, that is the best argument for making it illegal, as the law has to do with society. There is nothing inherently immoral about driving on the left side of the road or the right side of the road. It’s just an organizational problem. We need to make sure that everyone driving in a particular area knows which side to drive on while they are in that area.

And note that this is important if we believe that religion should be separate from the law. Because while it is true that religion and morality are not the same thing, some people’s morality is wrapped up in their religion, and some people’s morality is wrapped up in their lack of religion. Furthermore, morality is often wrapped up in comprehensive philosophical convictions that are not shared by all in a way precisely analogous to religion. Deontologists do not want to be ruled by consequentialists, and consequentialists do not want to be ruled by deontologists. And those who hold a view somewhere in between do not want to be ruled by someone who holds a view somewhere else in between.

Thus we should strive to base our political decisions on reasons that are publicly available and generate an overlapping consensus. Far more relevant than ”my religion says x” would be the claim ”your religion says x (and I happen to agree, though perhaps for other reasons).” And since not everyone is religious, better still is the claim “regardless of our personal views of the good, we can all agree that x is appropriate.”

(I am summarizing—in a painfully inadequate way—an idea that has traditionally been known as the idea of public reason. Though it is frequently attributed to the Kantian tradition of political philosophy, the idea finds precedent in the work of Hobbes, Hume, and Rousseau (and perhaps others if we are willing to allow subtler forms). Indeed, it is to the idea’s credit that it itself can be the subject of overlapping consensus among such different thinkers.)

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