Laws and Morals

Laws are the body of rules which are recognised as binding among the people of a community or state, so that they will be imposed upon and enforced among those persons by appropriate sanctions. Morals on the other hand are beliefs and values which are shared by a society, or a section of society; they tell those who share them what is right and what is wrong. According to Hart, moral rules can be distinguished from legal rules and other social rules in several ways.

Disagreement to the content of legal rules can be resolved by reference to statues or by the opinions of the judges, and even if those who disagree with a particular rule generally accept this as a perfect way of determining what the rule is. There may also be considerable disagreement to the content of moral rules, and there is generally no accepted way of resolving such disputes. Also legal rules can be changed by performance, but morality changes only gradually if at all.

Morals rules are not subject to deliberate creation, abortion or change: legal and other changes may cause changes in public attitude, as in the case of laws legalising homosexuality or prohibiting various forms of discrimination, but nothing can bring about an instant change in morality. Even though Moral rules commonly require considerable sacrifice, and strong social pressure is applied to keep them in place. Once a moral rule is regarded as not worth maintaining – the rule is disapproving of premarital sex (sex before marriage), for example it stops being a rule.

This is not so with legal rules as shown by the Abortion Act 1967 and the Sexual Offences Act 1956. The famous Hart-Devlin debate rose up a lot of points about Law and Morals, Professor Hart argued that using law to enforce moral values was unnecessary, undesirable and morally unacceptable. He felt that laws and morals should be kept separate and that morality should not reflect the direction of the law. He felt that private individuals should not be told what to do behind closed doors, as long as no one came to harm. The flaw in this argument was – then how could it be decided whether harm or no harm occurred.

Lord Devlin believed that moral behaviour could be improved by using the power of laws. He felt that moral behaviour that was disproved by the majority of the public should be made illegal, even where it was not harming society as a whole. A problem with this approach was defining the extent of society's moral values. Devlin's theory was point was influenced in a number of judicial decisions such as Shaw v DPP (1962) where The House of Lords rules that published advertising of prostitute services was a conspiracy to corrupt public morals.

There were lots of other perspectives on Laws and Morals, mainly by Natural Law Theories and Positivists Theories. In the fourth century BC, the Greek philosopher Aristotle argued that the law must coincide with natural law. When discussing moral virtues and justice he believed that the principles which governed the universe and which explained how it was structured and functioned could be discovered through observation and the power of human reason. By the middle ages other natural law theorists believed that natural law was the divine law, for example law of God.

St. Thomas Aquinas, writing in the thirteenth century expressed the view that God created the universe, and that when God created man he enabled him to know the truth. He further believed that if human law did no coincide with divine (religious) law, man was able to discover the truth through revelation. As society evolved however, these religious based theories become less popular. However Legal positivists argue that society can make its own laws without being linked to morality. Jeremy Bentham rejected natural law theories as being "nonsense upon stilts".

His main criticism was that natural law was based upon improvable principles and those natural law theorists' confused legal issues with moral issues. Bentham's theories included promotion of the utility principle for example laws should be made to provide the greatest happiness for the greatest number. John Austin also rejected the principle of natural law but felt that the validity of law is dependant upon it not being in conflict with a "higher law". Austin felt that a law may be valid irrespective of its moral content. He defined law as a command from sovereign, which the bulk of society habitually obeys.

This became known as Bentham's "command theory" Law and Morals are extremely hard to balance out, not only because there is such a wide range of views on issues, but they are also passionately held, meaning they will sometimes coincide in the meaning that a person who has broken a Law sometimes believes that he was doing what was morally correct to protect society. And In conclusion I feel that Laws and Morals will always be up for debate and different feelings will a lot of times clash with the rules held by our society. This is why there is a small chance of achieving a compromised decision for both.