ETHICS
Chapter Two :     Moral Development
Section 2. Why not follow the law?

In attempting to do the right thing and lead a moral life why not just follow the laws? Well this has already been touched on in chapter one but we can look at the issue again.

Obey the law and you are doing the right thing.  Well it is not that simple at all.  There are times when some people think that in order to do the right thing morally, the laws must be broken.  There are deliberate violations of the laws based on a sense of moral obligation on the part of the lawbreakers.  These acts are known as acts of Civil Disobedience.  What is the relation of law and what is legal to morality and what is thought to be good?

Laws are rules which are enforced by society.  Violations may bring a loss of or reduction in freedom and possessions.  What is the relation of law to morality?  They are NOT the same.  You can NOT equate the two.  Just because something is immoral does not make it illegal and just because something is illegal it does not make it immoral. 

Not all immoral acts are illegal.

Not all illegal acts are immoral.

You can probable think of many examples to support this view once you think about it. 

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Here are some examples of actions that are illegal but are thought to be moral (for many)! 

Drinking under age.

Driving over the speed limit.

Smoking marijuana.

Cheating on a tax return.

Splitting a cable signal to send it to more than one television.

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People do not think of themselves or of others as being immoral for breaking these laws.

Can you think of other examples??

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Here are some examples of actions that are immoral (for many) but are not illegal. 

Cheating on your spouse.

Breaking a promise to a friend.

Using abortion as a birth control measure.

 People can not be arrested or punished with imprisonment or fines for doing these things.

 Can you think of other examples??

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 What is the relation of morality to law?  Well, when enough people think that something is immoral they will work to have a law that will forbid it and punish those that do it.

When enough people think that something is moral,  they will work to have a law that forbids it and punishes those that do it repealed. 

Well if the law is not the basis for morality or the moral guide where do people get their ideas about what is morally correct?  This is the next topic.

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Proceed to the next section of the chapter by clicking here>> section.

Copyright Stephen O Sullivan and Philip A. Pecorino  2002. All Rights reserved.

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