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Mariah's avatar

In your opinion, are there behaviors that are legal, but immoral? What about illegal yet ethical?

Asked by Mariah (25831points) April 14th, 2011

Most of our moral codes do not match up exactly with what is considered officially legal. Some people have no moral qualms with victimless crimes. Others take great offense at actions that are in fact legal.

What actions, though perfectly legal, are not permitted by your ethical code of conduct?
What illegal actions are not outside your ethical code of behavior? (Not that you necessarily do them – I’m not asking anyone to admit to committing crimes on the internet, haha)
Which of your categories is longer?

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38 Answers

nikipedia's avatar

Legal, but immoral: cheating, lying, factory farming.

Illegal, but moral: narcotic use, speeding, some conditions that would be called statutory rape, some digital file sharing.

Michael_Huntington's avatar

Ticket touting (think of sites like stubhub). I think it’s unethical because it’s basically ruining everyone’s chances of trying to get a ticket for a reasonable price, and those bastards jack up the prices so they can get more money. It’s swindling, plain and simple.

Mariah's avatar

Wondering if I’m going crazy… I could have sworn that editing your own questions was an option at any given time, but I’m just not seeing the button.

What I wanted to edit to add is: Also, given the choice, do you think those illegal things you consider ethically sound should be made legal, and vice versa?

JLeslie's avatar

@Michael_Huntington I always wondered how stubhub is legal? Isn’t it scalping? Although, I am glad it exists. I think people should be able to sell their tickets if they are not going to use them. Maybe scalping is only when you sell for a profit?

@Mariah as many have pointed out there are many things that are legal that are unethical or immoral. The law changes over time, and so does morality, so of course they are never perfectly aligned. Laws and opinions regarding sex are someof the easiest targets. Sex before marriage, sex outside of marriage, homosexual sex, there are a variety of opinions on these examples of what is moral, and a variety of laws in what is legal (although the laws that still exist are rarely enforced in America, but in other countries they might veru well be).

Another example is corporal punishment, some think it is moral and good, others disagree. There are a variety of laws around the world, and even around the US the laws vary. Some states public schools can legally have corporal punishment, other states they can’t.

Breaking a verbal promise is usually not illegal, but might be seen as unethical.

So many.

JLeslie's avatar

@Mariah You only get a limited amount of time to edit.

KateTheGreat's avatar

Streaking in public.

It’s completely moral, but still illegal.

JLeslie's avatar

Yes, I think if something is illegal, but many think it is ethical, then probanly the law should be changed.

JLeslie's avatar

@KatetheGreat Some might find that behavior immoral.

funkdaddy's avatar

There are other more important examples, but I think gambling law is one of the most inconsistent areas for both morals and legality.

It’s illegal to gamble unless I want to pick some random numbers that give horrible odds, in which case I can watch the results right after the news. Apparently this is ok because it’s “for the kids”.

I don’t have a moral problem with the lottery, but why sell it in every convenience store if gambling is a vice? There are huge billboards encouraging people to take their shot at a game they have no control over and at the same time, the swat team is sent in if someone sets up a poker room, guns drawn, handcuffs for everyone, and all money seized?

To me, morally equal but quite different legally.

zenvelo's avatar

Ethical but illegal? Compassionate assisted suicide. Most states ban anything close to helping a terminally ill person from suicide, with little thought of the patient’s pain and suffering..

Jeruba's avatar

I don’t think there’s anything wrong—that is, unethical—about walking on the grass of our earth, eating the fruit of its trees, or harvesting its edible plants. But there are plenty of places where someone has put a fence around resources and declared access to them to be trespassing, which is illegal.

Legality and ethics/morality represent different standards. I don’t think they can ever be made consistent, and it would be foolish to try.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

What actions, though perfectly legal, are not permitted by your ethical code of conduct? Pregnancy termination. Unless the health of the mother is in jeopardy (which means maybe losing two lives) the child should not be punished for poor timing of the adults. <redacted> Too incendiary for most who can’t control their emotions. The death penalty unless done in a manner that We The People get to witness and it is done in the light of day and not in the we hours of the morning like cowards doing something wrong. Not reporting that you have been raped. IMO opinion that is a form of obstruction of justice that will just leave the attacker free to claim another victim.

What illegal actions are not outside your ethical code of behavior? I believe insider trading is ridiculous; it is the same thing if I gave you a tip on a car a neighbor had I felt you could get a deal on. Selling a body part if you wanted to; it is your body so you should be able to do what you wanted with it. Evading taxes, they waste so much I figure it is just protecting your assets fro a horde of buffoons. Prostitution is also ridiculous; it would be safer for everyone all around if it was. Certain act classified as sexual child abuse when the situations are as Mary Kay Letourneau-Fualaau. Any type of gambling anywhere at any time. Serving horse meat at restaurants. Cock fighting. Use of fire works in areas not dangerous to fire.

crisw's avatar

Absolutely, in both cases.

Some not-already-used examples of legal but unethical (IMO)- fur farming, sport hunting, predator hunting, spanking, having as many children as you can pump out, religious indoctrination of children.

Illegal but ethical- taking an abused animal from its tormentor, destroying leghold traps, interrupting hunts.

Bellatrix's avatar

@crisw Spanking is bad??? Ooops children… got ya!

meiosis's avatar

Illegal (under English law) but moral: Moderate drug use, blasphemy, defacing currency, public nudity, diving to the wreck of the Titantic(!), taking photographs of security forces, publicly-funded schools not holding a daily service of a ‘broadly Christian nature’, many public order offences, euthanasia.

Immoral but legal: Adultery, exploiting a loved one’s generosity, failing to help fellow citizens in need, immigration controls, killing creatures for recreation, spiteful gossip etc.

@Jeruba Is trespassing actually illegal in the US? It’s merely a civil matter here in England.

ratboy's avatar

Division by zero is ethical, but illegal.

augustlan's avatar

Some of my opinions:

Illegal, but moral: Any law that tries to control the sex lives of 2 (or more) consenting adults, including prostitution. Drug use, too. (Not including driving under the influence or harming others while drinking or high).

Legal, but immoral: Cheating on your significant other, lying, treating corporations as people, lobbying politicians in unethical ways.

seazen_'s avatar

@nikipedia Illegal, but moral: narcotic use, speeding, some conditions that would be called statutory rape, some digital file sharing.

I am not sure I follow you: what is moral about speeding? Narcotic use is moral? Illegal digital file sharing is moral – some of it? If it’s illegal, it means it’s copyrighted – so why would it be moral to do it anyway?

I respect you and usually love your answers – or I wouldn’t take the time to post this – but for the life of me I can’t understand your thinking here.

And I’m not going near the statutory rape. There is simply nothing good about under-age sex – and a consenting teen is an oxymoron.

meiosis's avatar

@seazen_ You imply that you think narcotic use is immoral. If that is the case, could you explain why?

seazen_'s avatar

I view the legal/illegal use of narcotics the same way I view democracy in general – it sucks, but it’s the best system there is.

Let’s not go into detail – which controlled substance in which country – but in general, I prefer it to be illegal, and thus “controlled” rather than the alternative. I have teens in mind when I say this. I have a couple of my own.

Now, if you’d like to discuss pot for personal use in the privacy of one’s home… I’d make a few amendments. But simply declaring that all narcotics are legal, well, I don’t think it would make for a better, safer world. And why would this be moral? Are my morals offended by the fact that drugs are illegal? Nope.

When I think of Legal but immoral, I think of prostitution. I think of adultery, of lying and cheating. I think of things that, although they may be legal per se, hurt me or others and morally offend me – things I wish would be illegal.

mattbrowne's avatar

Terry Jones’s Quran burning was legal in the US, but immoral.

It’s illegal to obtain data from Swiss banks about tax evaders hiding millions, but very ethical. And this did in fact happen too.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

I 2nd what @zenvelo wrote.

JLeslie's avatar

@mattbrowne I don’t know if the Quran burning is immoral (or burning any religious text) but it is certainly disrespectful, distasteful, and antagonistic. Why do you consider it immoral?

mattbrowne's avatar

@JLeslie – Because of the expected worldwide events that followed the burning. Everyone knew what happened after the Danish cartoons were published and what most likely would happen after the burning of a Quran. I agree, that the act of the burning as such is not necessarily immoral. At least not to me.

funkdaddy's avatar

@seazen_And I’m not going near the statutory rape. There is simply nothing good about under-age sex – and a consenting teen is an oxymoron

and yet most people have sex for the first time when they are teens, were they all non-consenting? Should everyone wait until they’re 20 or older?

Sex between a 15 year old and an 18 year old is technically illegal where I live, and can get you in a lot of trouble. It’s considered statutory rape and I believe can get you convicted as a sex offender. At the same time it’s a fairly common high school relationship and the prosecuting individuals are usually parents who don’t approve of their own child’s actions. They take that out on the other party because they can. It’s an abuse of the system that can follow someone for life.

Making sex between two consenting teenagers akin to rape is silly and out of touch, there’s nothing immoral about it and I would guess those are the sorts of situations that prompted the comment.

JLeslie's avatar

@mattbrowne I see. Interesting. I have to think about how I define morality, and how it is defined in general.

seazen_'s avatar

@funkdaddy You jumped to 20 – not me. Lots of people smoke – that doesn’t make it healthy. Lots of people drink – and then drive – doesn’t make it smart.

If a teen can wait until 17 or 18 (depending on the country/state) it’s better. IMHO.

nikipedia's avatar

@seazen_ let me try to clarify then. By moral I don’t mean morally admirable, in that some greater good is served by doing them—I just mean they’re morally acceptable, in that no real harm is caused by doing them.

All of the situations I described cover some range of behavior, and those ranges include both moral and immoral behavior. But the government has to make rules that apply equally to everyone and every circumstance, even if the behaviors don’t have the same consequences in all circumstances.

For instance, I think if I drive 65 in a 55 zone that is not immoral. It is illegal. However, on the other end of the spectrum, driving 120 in any zone is so dangerous that is probably immoral.

In terms of file sharing, saying that sharing should be illegal because the work is copyrighted is a circular argument. I think free access to media is generally a good thing and that copyright serves largely to protect recording companies rather than the artists who create media. File sharing can actually benefit artists whose popularity spreads; the recording companies are the big losers in this, and they should be.

On the issue of narcotic use, I have used narcotic drugs in my life and had very positive, beneficial experiences. To the best of my knowledge, no one was harmed by this. So I don’t see anything immoral about that action. However, I understand that drugs have the potential to cause a great deal of harm, so making them illegal is generally a good thing. I wouldn’t be opposed to a more thoughtful and nuanced law, though, that allows for some minimal and responsible narcotic use.

seazen_'s avatar

@nikipedia Thanks for your reply. We’re not on the same page – but we can agree to disagree, right?

nikipedia's avatar


Nullo's avatar

I was legally defrauded of a fairly hefty inheritance once by my aunt, uncle, and their four kids. It wasn’t enough to retire on or anything, but I could have paid off my student loans, bought a newer car, and probably have funded grad school before putting the rest into long-term savings. They don’t get Christmas cards from us anymore.

Nullo's avatar

@Mariah Oh, it gets better: They had managed to swindle most of the total before my late grandmother was late (one cousin went so far as to start a business with dementia-addled Grandma as the only client, so that she could bill the estate directly for vague ‘services’) resulting in her spending her last days in a state-run hospice facility when she had gone out of her way to finish up in her house. When Grandma did pass, we had to hear about it from somebody’s lawyer, and too late to even attend the funeral. Which is just as well, I guess; given everything that they had done (not all reported here, since I’m fuzzy on the details), there’s no guarantee that it would have ended without bloodshed and jail time somewhere.

meiosis's avatar

@Nullo The behaviour you describe would be illegal in the UK. Fraud through the abuse of position. People unable to properly understand the basic implications of financial transactions they enter into are deemed incapable of giving consent. Did your late Grandma not have someone with Power of Attorney looking after her best wishes?

I feel for you, we’ve been through something similar in my family. The effect that money lust can have on people you thought you knew is horrifying.

Nullo's avatar

@meiosis Oh, my uncle had Power of Attorney. Heh.

lifeflame's avatar

@funkdaddy – if you’re talking about gambling, our financial system is a big casino. don’t even get me started on that…

chelle21689's avatar

I could think of euthanasia as one of them depending on circumstances.

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