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"Law is Not Morality"

For discussion and debate about anything. (Not a roleplay related forum; out-of-character commentary only.)

You are Breaking the Law...

because you're rational and risk < reward
7
18%
because the law is wrong
23
58%
because you rolled a six and today you're chaotic evil
3
8%
because you're irrational and risk > reward
5
13%
because it's legal here (but not where you come from)
2
5%
 
Total votes : 40

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Forsher
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"Law is Not Morality"

Postby Forsher » Tue Jun 08, 2021 1:00 am

This OP might seem a little half-baked or, alternatively, maybe my normal threads are overcooked...

One of the common refrains around the law is that it's not morality. I did a quick (as in, I read a bit of three links) Google search just to get a better sense of what's going on and there seem to be two ideas worth mentioning:

  • these are distinct right/wrong systems
  • they are distinct and, what's more, law should not become morality

That latter point is more intriguing. On its face, it seems abhorrent... the purpose of a just society should be to converge from its present state to its ideal state: part of that will be a steady alignment of law and morality. On occasion, the law may set morality (in which case, the two converge), but, in general, the law will evolve to become like how morality was in the very recent past (on account of lawmakers, politicians and judges, being entrenched in their moral views by the time they're in a position to make law). Anything else is anti-democratic and anti-human... it is to say that people have no special insight into their own lives and instead some other group of people have the special insight into those same lives.

Of course, I read so little of so few results, I wonder if perhaps the point is what I'd more naturally write as "what's legal should not define what's moral", in which case it's a bit harder to see what's wrong with the idea.

But law is but one aspect of a just society's fundamental set-up, and I think it would be silly to exclude policy more generally from the discussion. And, again, I would argue that a just society should be pushing itself to resemble its ideals. So, if you're going to make the school leaving age 16, you would offer a qualification that would ordinarily be obtained in the year the pupil turns 16, say, because to do otherwise would be immoral.

Anyway, what say ye, NSG? Ought the law reflect the morality?
Last edited by Forsher on Tue Jun 08, 2021 9:17 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Deacarsia
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“Law is Not Morality”

Postby Deacarsia » Tue Jun 08, 2021 1:06 am

I strongly believe that law ought to reflect morality.

Indeed, there is no other rational basis for law.
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Postby Risottia » Tue Jun 08, 2021 1:08 am

Forsher wrote:Ought the law reflect the morality?

Absofuckinglutely not. Morality is personal business, law is public business.
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Postby Resilient Acceleration » Tue Jun 08, 2021 1:13 am

Well, people's morality is tenuous even within a local society. Take the word "homosexuals".

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The Free Joy State
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Postby The Free Joy State » Tue Jun 08, 2021 1:18 am

Ought the law be moral... yes, in a just and ideal world.

Unfortunately, the world is not always just or ideal.

I can think of any number of cases where obeying the law is not a moral action (people who worked at the Native American schools to rip children from their culture; those who worked at Auschwitz or Treblinka in the Holocaust; those who locked up Suffragettes who campaigned for a vote, often physically abusing them).

Likewise, I can think of any number of cases where I consider disobeying the law moral (the matchgirls illegal 1888 strike for better conditions, slaves running from their "owners" and those who helped them -- which was a crime; hiding a Jewish person, for which the penalty was death).

Lawful and good should be able to the same. With better laws, they can be.

Risottia wrote:
Forsher wrote:Ought the law reflect the morality?

Absofuckinglutely not. Morality is personal business, law is public business.

I was reading "moral" as "ethical". But, indeed, law should not be based on religious morality.

I would argue that more laws based on a sense of international humanitarian ethics would not be a bad thing, however.
Last edited by The Free Joy State on Tue Jun 08, 2021 9:34 am, edited 3 times in total.
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The Reformed American Republic
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Postby The Reformed American Republic » Tue Jun 08, 2021 1:42 am

Law should reflect morality to a certain extent, but not every immoral act should be illegal. Morality can influence law, but not 100% as even people in the same society can have differing views on what is moral. We here in America have different Christian denominations for instance, as well as non-Christians like myself. Certainly, there is going to be debates on what is moral amongst verious groups. Some things should be non-negotiable, but there are debates to be had.
Last edited by The Reformed American Republic on Tue Jun 08, 2021 1:43 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Kilobugya » Tue Jun 08, 2021 1:56 am

First I would say that morality is neither fully objective nor fully subjective. It'll necessarily change with times, places, culture, material conditions and understanding of the world, and people will always disagree about particular aspects of it. But yet, it is highly constrained by the laws of mathematics (game theory, ...), the material conditions we live in and our biology (and its evolutionary roots).

As for laws, they should indeed aim to approximate morality, which they only imperfectly do, and when laws don't reflect morality, they should be changed.

But I also believe we should tend to respect laws, even when they don't fully respect morality, as long as there is no strong reason to defy them. Because laws are a Shelling point. Because we'll never, as individuals, agree to all laws and if we don't all respect some common rules we endanger everyone. Even if I think the speed limit on that road should be 90 km/h and not 80 km/h, by going at 90 when I'm expected to got at 80 I'll endanger others.

But that stop applying when a law is utterly unethical, unfair or stupid. I did break laws to help "illegal immigrants" when they were in danger, to go to protests that were not allowed, or even "anti-piracy" laws, to just name a few example. And the more tyrannical the government is, the less legitimate its authority is, and the more we should disobey it.
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Deacarsia
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“Law is Not Morality”

Postby Deacarsia » Tue Jun 08, 2021 1:58 am

The Free Joy State wrote:Ought the law be moral... yes, in a just and ideal world.

Unfortunately, the world is not always just or ideal.

I can think of any number of cases where obeying the law is not a moral action (people who worked at the Native American schools to rip children from there culture; those who worked at Auschwitz or Treblinka in the Holocaust; those who locked up Suffragettes who campaigned for a vote, often physically abusing them).

Likewise, I can think of any number of cases where I consider disobeying the law moral (the matchgirls illegal 1888 strike for better conditions, slaves running from their "owners" and those who helped them -- which was a crime; hiding a Jewish person, for which the penalty was death).

Lawful and good should be able to the same. With better laws, they can be.


I agree with this. Laws can and ought to reflect the Good; indeed, law itself is nothing more than the public expression of the Good in society.

The Free Joy State wrote:I was reading "moral" as "ethical". But, indeed, law should not be based on religious morality.

I would argue that more laws based on a sense of international humanitarian ethics would not be a bad thing, however.


“International humanitarian ethics” is an extremely vague and tenuous term. Most societies and peoples both presently and throughout the entire history of the world base their sense of morality on an explicitly religious sensibility.

Indeed, it may be said that so-called “international humanitarian ethics” themselves are based on a sort-off quasi-religious ideological sensibility, insofar as they often are defined in many First World countries and as I think you probably understand them.

Apart from a conviction in a supernatural higher authority (a deity), there is not really any rational basis for any sort of laws, legal structure, or even morality itself, other than an arbitrary sense of how things “make you feel.”

I personally find this same common notion of “international humanitarian ethics” to be extremely arrogant, imposing the opinions of modern liberal Westerners (a small minority of both modern humanity and in human history) on the entire world as though they were universally held without even so much as trying to justify them beyond proclaiming them somehow “self-evident,” even though most people would strongly disagree.

(I am not calling you specifically arrogant, but the idea itself and those from whom it originated.)

I at least can respect the logical consistency of the points of view of various non-Western countries, such as Iran or Saudi Arabia, even though I disagree with the basis from which many of them drawn their conclusions (in these cases, Wahhabi Sunni Islam and Twelver Shia Islam, respectively).

Risottia wrote:Absofuckinglutely not. Morality is personal business, law is public business.


Morality in itself is not strictly personal business, but is both of a deeply personal and public basis, with the law being the public expression of morality within a society or civilization. This of course does not mean that the law must be totalitarian or overbearing in scope, but that by its very nature law exists to promote a certain moral vision of a society, whether an explicitly religious one or a quasi-religious ideological one masquerading as “international humanitarian ethics” or any other such thing.
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Postby Punished UMN » Tue Jun 08, 2021 3:28 am

Law should try to be based on morality; however, that must come with the caveat that law should not make it mandatory to be a paragon. Criminal penalties should only be placed on people who fail to meet even the bare minimum of what is moral and conducive to society.
Last edited by Punished UMN on Tue Jun 08, 2021 3:29 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Punished UMN
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Postby Punished UMN » Tue Jun 08, 2021 3:30 am

Risottia wrote:
Forsher wrote:Ought the law reflect the morality?

Absofuckinglutely not. Morality is personal business, law is public business.

Morality is a public business because it is what ultimately governs all interaction. One cannot be moral or immoral in the absence of others.
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Risottia
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Postby Risottia » Tue Jun 08, 2021 3:35 am

Punished UMN wrote:
Risottia wrote:Absofuckinglutely not. Morality is personal business, law is public business.

Morality is a public business because it is what ultimately governs all interaction.

No, law and force do.

One cannot be moral or immoral in the absence of others.

This does not imply it's a choice for others to enforce on you.
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Punished UMN
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Postby Punished UMN » Tue Jun 08, 2021 3:38 am

Risottia wrote:
Punished UMN wrote:Morality is a public business because it is what ultimately governs all interaction.

No, law and force do.

One cannot be moral or immoral in the absence of others.

This does not imply it's a choice for others to enforce on you.

The law is merely a function of publicly enforced morality.

Also, law and force are not the only means of governance, there is also ostracization and other socially imposed, extra-legal penalties for certain behavior. There are many things that are not illegal but which are so below social norms that people finding out about it would ruin your life worse than a large number of crimes ever could.
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Postby Risottia » Tue Jun 08, 2021 3:44 am

Punished UMN wrote:The law is merely a function of publicly enforced morality.

No, the law is a function of the status of the current balance between power and census groups, publicly enforced. No morality involved.
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Postby Great Confederacy of Commonwealth States » Tue Jun 08, 2021 3:48 am

Following the OP, I want to make clear that this discussion is as old as law itself. It still is the main contended issue among legal philosophers, and the dividing line between naturalists and positivists. So, a 'quick google search' is not nearly enough to even scratch the surface of this issue, which is the subject of one of the oldest academic debates in history.


Law, as a matter of fact, does not follow the morality of the general populace. In a perfect society, it might, but in a perfect society, laws would not be necessary. Laws encode rules that are beneficial to those who make the rules. In a capitalist-democratic society, that means that laws have to appear just and moral to the majority, but have to serve the interests of the owning class.


The law is just the codification of power, and that means that law is as moral as the power that makes it. Following the law, in and of itself, is not an inherently moral act. It can be moral to break the law, it can be moral to obey the law, although the latter usually happens by accident.
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Punished UMN
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Postby Punished UMN » Tue Jun 08, 2021 3:49 am

Risottia wrote:
Punished UMN wrote:The law is merely a function of publicly enforced morality.

No, the law is a function of the status of the current balance between power and census groups, publicly enforced. No morality involved.

There are plenty of laws that are based on morality and there are interest groups that make laws whose interest is in public morality. Also, you conveniently left out the other half of my post, law is not the only means of publicly enforcing morality, many societies, including Western societies, have unwritten rules that, if they are violated, can result in severe informal penalties. For example, it's perfectly legal to be gay or trans in Russia, but that's probably not much consolation to those who are social outcasts because most Russians hate LGBT people.
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Soviet Progonya
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Postby Soviet Progonya » Tue Jun 08, 2021 3:56 am

Law is not always based on morality. I mean, in some countries it's legal to kill a person and claim that it's because you panicked at them being trans, or know a minor as a child and wait for them to turn legal age to groom them. The nazis came to power legally. So no, law isn't morality. That being said, there are some moral things that should be made law (no bigotory, no rape, no child abuse etc) but others that are much more subjective. For example I'm a Christian but don't necessarily want my values and beliefs to become law. There are some things that are immoral (for example cheating) which don't really make sense to me to become banned by law.
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Postby Borderlands of Rojava » Tue Jun 08, 2021 3:57 am

The law ought to adhere as close to morality as is possible, but morality isn't universally agreed upon. Anyways, the law often is highly immoral like in the case of the war on drugs.
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Postby Risottia » Tue Jun 08, 2021 4:40 am

Punished UMN wrote:There are plenty of laws that are based on morality

This fails to imply that law and morality are equivalent, or that law should be based on morality, or that law is based on morality.

and there are interest groups that make laws whose interest is in public morality.

"Interest groups" is just another way of rewording what I wrote. Power and census groups.

...unwritten rules that, if they are violated, can result in severe informal penalties...

Hence, not law, hence, not relevant to the argument.
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Postby Punished UMN » Tue Jun 08, 2021 4:44 am

Risottia wrote:
Punished UMN wrote:There are plenty of laws that are based on morality

This fails to imply that law and morality are equivalent, or that law should be based on morality, or that law is based on morality.

and there are interest groups that make laws whose interest is in public morality.

"Interest groups" is just another way of rewording what I wrote. Power and census groups.

...unwritten rules that, if they are violated, can result in severe informal penalties...

Hence, not law, hence, not relevant to the argument.

It would be irrelevant if my post were talking about law exclusively. You said that morality is strictly personal, while law is public. That morality has public functions in extra-legal contexts would undermine the idea that morality plays no role in social enforcement of norms or in shaping the way people think about the function of law. You write as if the power and census groups and the resulting laws are independent of socially-defined morality, but they are not, they are very heavily influenced by them.
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The Free Joy State
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Postby The Free Joy State » Tue Jun 08, 2021 5:38 am

Deacarsia wrote:
The Free Joy State wrote:I was reading "moral" as "ethical". But, indeed, law should not be based on religious morality.

I would argue that more laws based on a sense of international humanitarian ethics would not be a bad thing, however.


“International humanitarian ethics” is an extremely vague and tenuous term. Most societies and peoples both presently and throughout the entire history of the world base their sense of morality on an explicitly religious sensibility.

Indeed, it may be said that so-called “international humanitarian ethics” themselves are based on a sort-off quasi-religious ideological sensibility, insofar as they often are defined in many First World countries and as I think you probably understand them.

Apart from a conviction in a supernatural higher authority (a deity), there is not really any rational basis for any sort of laws, legal structure, or even morality itself, other than an arbitrary sense of how things “make you feel.”

I have to disagree. I think that, once one strips religion from ethics -- and I am not an atheist -- it is easier to look at what is ethical.

I think it was Socrates who once asked if the commandments of a god were good simply because God had commanded them or good because God recognised what was good and so commanded that they be so. If the first then any action -- whether rape or murder, or those immoral actions I discussed in my first post -- can be argued to be good. If actions are good because God recognises the actions as good, then there is a rational basis for laws, with or without god.

That basis -- those ethics -- remain the same.

I personally find this same common notion of “international humanitarian ethics” to be extremely arrogant, imposing the opinions of modern liberal Westerners (a small minority of both modern humanity and in human history) on the entire world as though they were universally held without even so much as trying to justify them beyond proclaiming them somehow “self-evident,” even though most people would strongly disagree.

(I am not calling you specifically arrogant, but the idea itself and those from whom it originated.)

I at least can respect the logical consistency of the points of view of various non-Western countries, such as Iran or Saudi Arabia, even though I disagree with the basis from which many of them drawn their conclusions (in these cases, Wahhabi Sunni Islam and Twelver Shia Islam, respectively).

I acknowledge your point but do not agree with either your assessment of the characterisation of the proponents or the argument itself. Perhaps I could have put it in a better way but international principles are -- as other laws (when they work) -- protective. In this instance, protective of citizens' against nations' excesses, not -- and I apologise if you somehow got this impression -- only or even primarily non-Western countries (for instance, it is a matter of some comfort to know there is an international organisation watching the current UK government; it would be a matter of greater comfort if they did more than issue strong letters).

I do not argue in favour of international protections because they are "self-evident" but because they are needed. Although I spoke of past abuses (and I expect you will be well aware of this), there are nations in this world where they -- within their national law -- treat their own citizens abominably.

As I said earlier, the law should be ethical. The law should be just. Where it is not, the world should not look away.
Last edited by The Free Joy State on Tue Jun 08, 2021 5:44 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Postby Alvecia » Tue Jun 08, 2021 5:57 am

I think morality should and does inform law, but it should not define or dictate it.
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Postby Dogmeat » Tue Jun 08, 2021 6:12 am

Law is merely an agreed upon framework by which a society manages its disputes.

If it is blatantly immoral then it is unlikely to be "agreed upon," but beyond that it owes nothing to morality. In fact, it is often best if the law appears as broadly amoral, so as to better be impartial.
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Postby Ethel mermania » Tue Jun 08, 2021 6:38 am

Dogmeat wrote:Law is merely an agreed upon framework by which a society manages its disputes.

If it is blatantly immoral then it is unlikely to be "agreed upon," but beyond that it owes nothing to morality. In fact, it is often best if the law appears as broadly amoral, so as to better be impartial.


Morality does inform the framework, for example "private property laws", but basically yes, its a structure of what most of the citizens deem as acceptable conduct within society.
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Postby Great Confederacy of Commonwealth States » Tue Jun 08, 2021 7:58 am

Ethel mermania wrote:
Dogmeat wrote:Law is merely an agreed upon framework by which a society manages its disputes.

If it is blatantly immoral then it is unlikely to be "agreed upon," but beyond that it owes nothing to morality. In fact, it is often best if the law appears as broadly amoral, so as to better be impartial.


Morality does inform the framework, for example "private property laws", but basically yes, its a structure of what most of the citizens deem as acceptable conduct within society.

What's the difference between morality on one hand, and 'what most citizens deem acceptable conduct' on the other?
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Forsher
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Founded: Jan 30, 2012
Liberal Democratic Socialists

Postby Forsher » Tue Jun 08, 2021 9:24 am

Soviet Progonya wrote:Law is not always based on morality. I mean, in some countries it's legal to kill a person and claim that it's because you panicked at them being trans, or know a minor as a child and wait for them to turn legal age to groom them. The nazis came to power legally. So no, law isn't morality. That being said, there are some moral things that should be made law (no bigotory, no rape, no child abuse etc) but others that are much more subjective. For example I'm a Christian but don't necessarily want my values and beliefs to become law. There are some things that are immoral (for example cheating) which don't really make sense to me to become banned by law.


That's the law not following our morality, not the law not following morality.
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We won't know until 2053 when it'll be really obvious what he should've done. [...] We have no option but to guess.

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