Relation between Law and Morality or Ethics

Law is an enactment made by the state. It is backed by physical coercion. Its breach is punishable by the courts. It represents the will of the state and realizes its purpose.

Laws reflect the political, social and economic relationships in the society. It determines rights and duties of the citizens towards one another and towards the state.

It is through law that the government fulfils its promises to the people. It reflects the sociological need of society.

Law and morality are intimately related to each other. Laws are generally based on the moral principles of society. Both regulate the conduct of the individual in society.

They influence each other to a great extent. Laws, to be effective, must represent the moral ideas of the people. But good laws sometimes serve to rouse the moral conscience of the people and create and maintain such conditions as may encourage the growth of morality.

Laws regarding prohibition and spread of primary education are examples of this nature.Morality cannot, as a matter of fact, be divorced from politics. The ultimate end of a state is the promotion of general welfare and moral perfection of man.

It is the duty of the state to formulate such laws as will elevate the moral standard of the people. The laws of a state thus conform to the prevailing standard of morality. Earlier writers on Political Science never made any distinction between law and morality.

Plato's Republic is as good a treatise on politics as on ethics. In ancient India, the term Dharma connoted both law and morality. Law, it is pointed out, is not merely the command of the sovereign, it represents the idea of right or wrong based on the prevalent morality of the people.

Moreover, obedi­ence to law depends upon the active support of the moral sentiments of the people. Laws which are not supported by the moral conscience of the people are liable to become dead letters.

For example laws regarding Prohibition in India have not succeeded on account of the fact that full moral conscience of the people has not been aroused in favor of such laws.

As Green put it, "In attempting to enforce an unpopular law, a government may be doing more harm than good by creating and spread­ing the habit of disobedience to law. The total cost of such an attempt may well be greater than the social gain."

Although law and morality arc interdependent yet they differ from each other in their content, definiteness and sanction.

Some points of distinction between law and morality may be brought out as follows:

Law:

1. Law regulates and controls the external human conduct. It is not concerned with inner motives. A person may be having an evil intention in his or her mind but law does not care for it.

Law will move into action only when this evil intention is translated into action and some harm is actually done to another person.

2. Law is universal in a particu­lar society. All the individuals are equally subjected to it. It does not change from man to man.

3. Political laws are precise and definite as there is a regular organ in every state for the formulation of laws.

4. Law is framed and enforced by a determinate political author­ity. It enjoys the sanction of the state. Disobedience of law is gen­erally followed by physical pun­ishment.

The fear of punishment acts as a deterrent to the breach of political law.

5. Law falls within the purview of a subject known as Jurispru­dence.

Morality:

1. Morality regulates and con­trols both the inner motives and the external actions. It is concerned with the whole life of man.

The province of law is thus limited as compared with that of morality because law is simply concerned with external actions and docs not take into its fold the inner motives.

Morality condemns a person if he or she has some evil intentions but laws are not applicable unless these intentions are manifested externally.

2. Morality is variable. It changes from man to man and from age to age. Every man has his own moral principles.

3. Moral laws lack precision and definiteness as there is no author­ity to make and enforce them.

4. Morality is neither framed nor enforced by any political author­ity. It does not enjoy the support of the state. Breach of moral prin­ciples is not accompanied by any physical punishment.

The only check against the breach of moral­ity is social condemnation or indi­vidual conscience. 'Moral actions are a matter of choice of inner conscience of the individual, laws are a matter of compulsion'.

5. Morality is studied under a separate branch of knowledge known as Ethics.

We may conclude the discussion in the words of Gilchrist, "The in­dividual moral life manifests itself in manifold ways. The state is the supreme condition of the individual moral life, for without the state no moral life is possible.

The state, therefore, regulates other organizations in the common interest. The state, however, has a direct function in relation to morality."

Points to Remember

Laws may be defined as external rules of human conduct backed by the sovereign political authority. Law and morality are intimately related to each other.

Laws are generally based on the moral principles of a particular society. Some points of distinction may be brought out as follows:

(a) Laws regulate external human conduct whereas morality mainly regulates internal conduct.

(b) Laws are universal; morality is variable.

(c) Laws are definite and precise while morality is variable.

(d) Laws are upheld by the coercive power of the state; morality simply enjoys the support of public opinion or individual conscience.

(e) Laws are studied under Jurisprudence but morality is studied under Ethics.