No. For many reasons, things are not moral simply because they are legal.
Even If you believe in objective morality (things are either moral or immoral independent of human judgment as morality) or subjective morality (morality is dependent upon human interpretation, culture and circumstance), that laws may be worthy or repeal or modification.
Moral objectivists believe in a transcendent means to morality of that there is a way to objectively categorize moral action. For instance, religious people will contend that the moral standards come from God and work diligently to uphold them. To take an example, for these people something like slavery or military conscription (the draft) may always be wrong. An argument formulated for this would be something like…
Premise 1: If God exists, then objective morality (morals provided by God) exist
Premise 2: God exists
Conclusion: Objective morality exists.
If a law goes against objective morality, these people would oppose it.
This need not be religious. Philosopher Immanuel Kant said there are “Categorical Imperatives” in which people should always do the things which work out for the greater good of society. He formulated it thusly: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” For this reason, people may oppose laws that must not always be done for the best of society. Kant also formulated this as “Treat people always as ends in and of themselves, and not means.” This goes against a morality which argues that people could work immoral things to work a moral benefit, a sentiment commonly expressed as “the ends justify the means.” For Kant and people who hold his beliefs, something like torture is always wrong and laws that permit torture must always be opposed for they cannot be universally willed nor do they treat people as ends, they treat people as means to something, like information or consolidation of power.
Subjective morality notes that human morality and society evolves. Laws do not float down from Heaven, they come from within people. Through reasoning, people decide to amend or repeal damaging laws. One clear cut example of this is rejection of slavery. Rejection of then legal slavery is proof that something is not moral simply because it is a law. Laws may have no moral value and are tools to make a healthy society. Harmful laws are amended or replaced in the same way a car engine that is no longer working (slavery, prohibition, the draft, child labor), would be repaired or replaced.
John Rawls’ Social Contract Theory is a fine way to think about law. Laws come about because we are all a part of a social contract. The best way to formulate laws is to imagine that you do not know your circumstances of birth and this way will ensure a fair creation of law. Things such as slavery, child labor and the draft would not happen because people would imagine themselves to be potential child laborers, slaves or military draftees and not create these laws.
Laws are oftentimes changed by people with powerful messages of justice. For instance, the women’s suffrage movement headed by people like Susan B. Anthony, the Civil Rights Movement headed by people like Martin Luther King Jr., and the movement to get India’s independence from UK rule by Mahatma Gandhi, are all such instances of unjust laws being repealed by peaceful protest and action. One contention is that people seeking to change laws would be in themselves menacing and dangerous, but this need not be the case as the 3 peaceful changes to laws noted above demonstrate.
Powerful examples against the inherent goodness of laws are tyrannical governments like Nazi Germany. Under Nazi Law, people had to turn in Jews and other people the Nazi regime hated. Following “the law” would get innocents tortured and brutally killed. People such as Oskar Schindler and Raoul Wallenberg heroically defied Nazi law to save more than 100,000 lives.
Laws may be struck down as against a larger set of laws. For instance, in the United States there is a greater set of laws called The United States Constitution and the Supreme Court is used to decide if laws are legal and constitutional or illegal and unconstitutional. By the reasoning that laws are in and of themselves moral, every action of the Supreme Court and similar systems could be seen as immoral, but this is not the case in reality.
No matter if you are an objectivist or a subjectivist, laws are not always moral and may be fought.
Links to Read About Terms and Sources
Moral Objectivism/Moral Absolutism
Subjective Morality/Moral Relativism
Immanuel Kant and Categorical Imperativism
John Rawls and Social Contract Theory
John Rawls’ A Theory Of Justice describing Social Contract Theory and Justice as Fairness
Raoul Wallengburg and Oskar Schindler
Peaceful Movements To Change Laws
The U.S. Anti-War and Anti-Draft Movement During the Vietnam War
The Acquired Taste
The power that determines what's right in civilization is the law, therefore what's legal is what's right.
"Everybody thinks their ideas are right. That why the people you call terrorists call themselves freedom fighters. The fundamentalists think they're right, the capitalists think they're right, the communists think they're right. And no one will ever convince anyone of anything . . . ideas don't determine [what's] right. Power determines [what's] right." - Jonathan Irons(1)
Don't believe me? Go to any public place and tell me what you see...people? In this case you see more than just people. You see people following the law. Everyone. It's because it's the dogma of what's right. It may change from time to time and place to place but people follow it regardless. Yes they can say "just because it's legal it DOESN'T make something right", but no matter how passionately it's expressed, it's only an idea...
THAT ISN'T TO SAY IDEAS CAN'T HAVE POWER...
Ideas have power when the actions and words fueled by them cause change to what's legal.
People condemn the law for allowing discrimination against African-Americans, discrimination against women and dictatorships to occur in the past. However they're forgetting it was only AFTER a myriad of human rights activists fought for their ideas, that they were then legitimized into law and became "right", but not a moment before.
- African-Americans had people like Martin Luther King Jr. who led movements like the Montgomery Bus Boycott(2). The Boycott facilitated the U.S. District Court ruling on Browder v. Gayle (desegregation of buses)(3). His ideas had POWER.
- Women had people like Susan B. Anthony who led the NAWSA(4). This organization was instrumental in approving the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution a.k.a the Susan B. Anthony Amendment (giving women the right to vote)(5). Her ideas had POWER.
- Democracy had people like Gandhi who was in the frontlines for the Indian independence movement(6). As a result, the Indian Independence Act of 1947 (separation of India and Pakistan from British India) was passed(7). His ideas had POWER.
These people gave power to their ideas by making them FACT and PRINTING THEM INTO LEGISLATION. This is how to prove ideas are right. The abolished laws aren't "right" now but in their time they were because the law is FACTUAL doctrine. NOBODY CAN REFUTE FACTS, even if FACTS CAN CHANGE. People can be self-righteous, holier-than-thou and "PC" all they want but until their ideas cause change in the law, THEY AREN'T FACT.
Chris McDonald, Ph.D, an ethics consultant(8)
, wrote a blog called "What’s Legal Isn’t Always Ethical"(9)
. He explains that lying, adultery and "so on" are legal but are "generally recognized" and "widely thought of" as wrong. But the problem with that is the law being "right" is the only thing that's universally recognized and thought of as legitimate FACT.
So it's a shame that someone with McDonald's eminence is misleading people.
Anything that's legal but seems unsavoury being wrong are TRUTHS. Now don't confuse truths with FACTS. Truths are ideas that are believed by many people but they're unproven. Facts are known and proven. They're proven with such things like the law. For example, it's known to prove the facts about a person's innocence or guilt.
"But what if somebody is wrongly sentenced?"
The law isn't responsible, human error is.
- The lawyer's misinterpretation of evidence.
- The jury's verdict.
- The judge's sentence.
The law is always right. It's people that are wrong. They're the ones who sentence innocent men to jail. It's not like the law agrees with this. But then they have the nerve to say certain things are legal but wrong. What makes them right? Passion? What if I say everything that's legal is right? Who's correct? Me. The law (FACT) endorses me. I'm not saying people's ideas (OPINIONS) don't have merit, but when it comes to FACT, legislation > passion.
LAWS, LAWS EVERYWHERE...
A Westerner and a Muslim walk into a bar. After boozing it up, the following conversation ensues...
WESTERNER: Oi brah! Why do your women have to wear those cloaks?
MUSLIM: You mean burkas? Well reasons include having general modesty...
WESTERNER: Nah fuck that. It's not right. Women should be able dress freely.
MUSLIM: Well it's not right for women to be able to dress like whores.
BARTENDER: Okay boys, let's settle this. What does the law in your respective country say?
WESTERNER: Women can dress freely.
MUSLIM: Women are expected to wear the burka.
BARTENDER: So you both think the other is wrong?
WESTERNER & MUSLIM: Yes.
BARTENDER: But you both accept that the law is right?
WESTERNER & MUSLIM: Yes.
The Westerner and Muslim eventually accept the other lives by a different code.
The point is everyone has differing opinions on what's right but the only common denominator in the world is the law.
No matter if it's in the West, the Middle East or anywhere else in the world, it's the only objective viewpoint and it's regarded as such. People may not like how certain things are legal elsewhere, but chances are somebody else does. So when two people have a difference of opinion concerning what's right, what's happens? The custody of a child is always a hot debate in society...They go see people like Judge Judy, King Solomon or they call the cops. They refer to AUTHORITIES OF THE LAW.
RESPECT THE AUTHORITAH...
The law is power and fact. Two things which are undebatable when it comes to determining what's right
. From Miami to Ibiza and everywhere else, communities look to the law as a beacon of good. "Just because it's legal it DOESN'T make something right" is solely a subjective statement and while it's reasonable, it's not fact. Disagreements with the law should be addressed through the correct pathways and if it's reasonable enough, it will lead to a rectification because...
"The law is reason free from passion." - Aristotle(10)
Meaning, it doesn't cater to ideas. It's caters to what's right for humankind.
I Thought The Law (And The Law's Wrong)
Discussions of morality have been fostered by humanity for millennia; the need for a "right" and "wrong" was born from a need for order and civility among developing cultures. The more scarce the resources such as food, the more that culture emphasized honor through strong work in the field or as a hunter, and shamed theft and cheating others.
Originally reinforced through short stories and myths, civilization found itself needing a more structured approach to enforcing these moral standards, and an organized law soon came about. As covered by today's debate, one of the most widely contended aspects of morality and the law was whether the law itself was a worthwhile source to derive a sense of "right". It's thoroughly demonstrable that what is "right" is incongruous with simply what is "legal".
For the purpose of this debate, "right" represents the concepts of morality, specifically the approach to determining the appropriate course of action in a given circumstance. "Ethics" and "morality" will be interchangeable for all intents and purposes. On the other hand, what's "legal" will be based upon criminal law in "First World" nations (although it'll cross-apply to other forms of law) and may be referred to as "the law".
So what exactly are morals and how do they relate to laws?
Morals are how we justify our actions in a situation based on adopted value systems
. Someone who values
honesty will not lie over trivial matters, for instance. Values
are the lens through which we evaluate the worth and consequences of all of our actions.
are held, and how they are prioritized vary from person-to-person; therefore,there are no objective or universal values
. Morals seek to both celebrate "right" actions, and shame "wrong" actions, with consistent implications upon the worth of our actions.
In contrast, the law is a (theoretically) universal set of standards for impermissible behavior
. There's no consequences for "right" behavior under the laws, only repercussions for violating the rules. While a code of conduct of this nature can be essential to any balanced and developed moral code, it alone imparts no values
for individual consideration.
An intrinsic relationship between the law and morality is highlighted in the debate question through the phrase "just legal." There's no such thing as "just legal" in the law, as there needs to be a preexisting moral dilemma, and a subsequent accepted standard, from which the law can be derived. The belief that all life has potential and a right to an opportunity to fulfill that potential leads to the formation and enforcement of homicide and manslaughter laws, even in cases that lack ill-intent. Those laws don't exist in a vacuum free from their moral justification. This casts reasonable doubt upon the questions initial postulation of whether something can be "just legal", before we even begin to consider if that by extension makes it right.
There's an arbitrary and inconsistent nature to the law
that cannot be overlooked. In a nation such as the United States, every town, city, county, and state has their own set of rules and laws governed by various jurisdictions. The tricky consequence of this is that what's held to be incontrovertibly wrong in point A can be wholly appropriate in point B, even if the distance between the two is a mere 5 meters apart. While morals must consider context, it's never in an entirely arbitrary fashion such as this, where ingesting marijuana in Colorado is considered A-OK, but venturing barely across the state line into Kansas to ingest the substance makes you a criminal facing a year in jail and a hefty fine.
Perhaps the most dubious nature of the law, as aforementioned, is that it contains no device to evaluate
unique legal actions. Suppose you want a car, and while the law says you can't steal that car, you still need to determine an appropriate line of behavior to obtain this car. As far as the law is concerned, you can go do hard labor, dig ditches, milk cows, or pick crops to accumulate the funds, or you can become a porn star, suck a million cocks on camera, and get paid for your legal work, and it'd be equally honorable and appropriate under the law (depending on the jurisdiction, of course).
There is no such thing as honor or humility in the eyes of the law, only the permissible and the criminal, and thus, the law fails to evaluate and differentiate between legal acts, nor does it consider their unique consequences
. Neither action is more justified than the other.
However, this isn't merely about individual circumstances, this is about the incongruity of concepts.
In fact, it'd be intellectually dishonest to namedrop any specific "egregious, yet legal" occurrence (i.e. Holocaust) as if it's an objective violation of morality to prove the law's moral failings, since morality is individually subjected to the biases, values, and circumstances of its holder. Ethics necessitates agency, and a moral divorced of its agent is only as valuable as the next agent deems it
To the wife of a German soldier in wartime, why should her value
of self-preservation of her family be sacrificed for an act of treason in a futile attempt to protect strangers from an insurmountable oppressive entity? Consider that question sadistic or selfish, but even the selfish sadists have their own morality, and that scenario would fail to meet their threshold of a justified action.
Instead, let's piece them together, and finalize why they cannot fit:
Morals need values, the law offers and requires none. Morals need to evaluate and differentiate between all potential outcomes, the law appreciates all "legal" actions with the same worth. Morals are subjective and individualized, the law is objective and universal. Morals operate within the individual, the law operates within the jurisdiction. The fundamental disparities are too great for the two to be grafted upon one another; they might accent one another, but the law cannot serve morality's purpose
Just because it's legal does that make something right?
Did John Terry break any laws when he shagged his teammate’s missus?
Does the medical system break any laws when it denies a desperate patient lifesaving treatment due to finances or a lack of?
Are advertising campaigns generally breaking any laws when they exaggerate to arguably deceive their target audience?
Notice a pattern? The answer to all is ‘no’, which also raises another question – are the above ethical? To most people, the answer would again be ‘no’; however, that’s where the crux of this topic lies – to most people
, the answer would be ‘no’. This completely changes the question, as ethics can be both a personal and societal matter and that will be explored later on; however, we must first define the topic at hand.
By ‘right’ the question assumedly means moral or ethical – i.e. behavioural matters that are deemed to be socially acceptable. Therefore the topic is questioning whether adhering to a country and/or community’s laws automatically makes one’s behaviour morally acceptable.
Now, let’s explore the idea of differences in ethics through the eye of an individual versus through the eyes of a culture as prior mentioned. There are also professional ethics (e.g. in a business), but for the sake of staying below the word count, these will fall under personal.
Ethics: Personal vs. Societal
Throughout the world there are various views and ideas shared by mass amounts of people – religious or cultural beliefs for example. Often these views conflict with one another and that, as raised before is crucial in this debate. People throughout the world differentiate in opinions on such matters as abortion, political systems or religion, so how can it be expected that people will share a collective view on what is right and wrong?
Your view on your country’s involvement in war will likely be different to the elderly veteran living down the road. Your view on teenage pregnancy will likely be different to a sixteen year old ecstatic to be having a child. Matters as minuscule (in the grand scheme of things) as to whether a Mexican man should receive the $500 000 he won on a misprinted lottery ticket* cause great debate, so it is blatantly ignorant to believe society will be ever able to mutually agree on what is ethical and what is not.
So, what is it that forms the boundary that segregates socially unacceptable behavior from ethical conduct? Ah yes, our old pal the justice system.
…And Justice For All(?)
If you were to go to a university campus featuring the brightest minds of the modern world and yell out the words cannabis
, you would likely receive quizzical stares; however, if you were to do so on the internet, you would draw the attention of the greatest philosophers of this generation. Let’s face it, laws and the justice system often come under fire nowadays, with the fiercest shots often fired by internet users. Let’s have a glance at some comments on a DailyMail news article about arrests regarding the use of cannabis at Yellwostone National Park**, shall we?
“Oh COME ON Rangers, loosen up a bit, smoke one of those joints yourself. It's far less dangerous and damaging than alcohol.”
Food for thought, American government. While there are relevant studies out there to provide evidence for this comment, there are also many that contradict it. Without links to any relevant studies, this comment is useless.
Thank god the government makes sure nobody can enjoy Yellowstone after smoking a joint, just imagine the chaos by allowing such freedom, just can't have it.
Boo. No freedom. Boo. That’s all I got out of this. I love my joints, so let’s make sarcastic comments aimed at a well-known law.
I’d like it to be known that I am not against the legalization of the possession of cannabis; however, these comments are a fine example of the internet fire laws often come under. Since the inception of the internet, I feel it’s valid to say that the question asked by this debate has likely gained more momentum. The fact that your average Joe can just complain online, because the coppers shut down their good time is a primary area that this question stems from. No, the justice system is not perfect – anywhere, but it works a lot more than legalizing something because Tom, Dick or Harry enjoy it.
Until everyone can collectively dictate what is right and what is strong, we will simply have to adhere to the justice system. Despite all the heated comments we see directed at it from internet users whose IQ is among the best 83% in the world; it still best sets the parameters for what is ethical and what is not. People may not like it, but that is personal opinion.
NOTE: In a business or facility (i.e.) in which a set of rules are agreed upon by occupants, legal may not equal right. This debate focused purely on general circumstances.