ASK A QUESTION
What is the relationship between law and morality? Is the law simply a branch of morality?
November 4, 2005
Philosophers of law spend a lot of time arguing over this question. This is not surprising since, on the one hand, there seems clearly to be some close connection; but on the other hand there are both actions that are immoral but not illegal (e.g. not keeping a promise) and actions actions that are illegal but not immoral (e.g. breaking an law requiring people to turn in escaped slaves).
Some so-called natural lawyers have claimed that the idea of an immoral law is an oxymoron. If some state diktat says that people of a certain race can't travel into certain areas, then that's not a law. That's fine -- but essentially it involves giving a new and special meaning to the word 'law'. Law and morality can be seen as analogous in various ways. They have a similar structure (both involve requirements, permissions, demands, etc.); they serve similar functions (such as coercing people into certain behaviour for social purposes); and they probably have similar origins (see e.g. the work of the anthropologist Christopher Boehm on this). If one sees both law and morality as essentially forms of social coercion, then one is not a branch of the other. In the case of each, we can ask ourselves whether we have a reason to accept it, or parts of it, and whether it can be improved in some way or other.
TRACK THIS ENTRY
If you provide your e-mail address, you will be automatically notified whenever this question receives a response. Your e-mail address will not be used for any other purpose, and it will not be given or sold to anyone.
Use the following permanent link to refer to this entry:
You can use HTML tags if you wish. You can also use the much simpler Textile syntax: for example, *asterisks* around a word make it bold and _underscoring_ italicizes it. If you enclose text in double quotation marks, follow it by a colon, and follow that by a URL, the text will be a link to that URL. For more formatting options and examples (e.g., links, tables, images, footnotes, and more), see the Textile help.
Click the Preview button to see a pop-up window with what your answer will really look like.
RETIRED PANELISTS (show)