Difference between Law and Morality

Relationship between law and morality:

“The state is founded on the minds of its citizens, who are moral agents”, says; Professor R.N. Gilchrist, “….A bad people means a bad state and bad laws”. It is true that law is the subject of study in Political Science and morality is the subject- matter of Ethics, yet there is a close affinity between the two.

Here we are to deal with the close intimacy found between law and morality. Law and morality are complementary to each other. Ethics teaches citizens the code of conduct.

It shows them the distinction between truth and a falsehood. It makes us aware of the wrongness and rightness of our actions. Ethics enables us to think in moral terms and upgrades us in moral terms. It helps us in raising our moral standard. Laws framed by the state also aim at the same.

The ultimate end of the state lies in promoting the welfare of the people. The state aims life. Political Science also enables individuals to come out as good citizens, individual can become an ideal citizen only when he follows the Code of conduct by morality. So there is a close affinity between law and morality.

Ideal citizens are to be an ideal state. A state can become an ideal state only when it operates through ideal laws of morality. Morality is the basis of ideal laws. If the state operates through ideal laws which are based on morality, it will help the emergency of an ideal state.

For example, laws framed with a purpose of eliminating such evils and malpractices as drinking of wine, gambling, theft, dacoity and murder are moral laws. They arouse our sentiment of morality and enable us to become ideal citizens. Only those laws which are based on morality remain permanent.

A state within moral laws cannot make a progress. In a state where crimes are given impetus people will remain busy in committing crimes and will not be able to think of their own progress. As a result, they will degenerate into the primitive savage. In this connection, Plato has very aptly remarked, “The best state is that which is nearest in virtue to the individual. If any part of the body politic suffers, the whole body suffers”.

A bad state will have bad citizens and a good state will have good citizens. So it is the sole function of the state to keep a good standard of morality. This is the reason why the Government of India is trying its best to eliminate the evil of untouchability. It has already framed laws against untouchability.

It is rather a sin to adopt the policy of discrimination on the grounds of caste and creed, colour and race, clans and tribes, groups and classes. The government is taking measures to prohibit the drinking of wine. Drinking is a sin and at the same time, it is illegal and child marriages were prohibited.

The foregoing discussion makes it very clear that law and morality are very closely related to each other. One is the complement of the other. Gettell maintains that the law which are not in accordance with the moral concept of the people cannot be possibly applied and the laws sanctity….” Generally, laws are the image of morality.

Democracy does not generally have any such law as opposed to morality. Wilson has very correctly observed that the law of a state is the result of the development of morality in the state. This is the reason why the sovereign law-making authority pays due attention to the code of the intimacy between law and morality that “the margin between the illegal and immoral is not clear”.

“We regard the state”, says MacIver, “as the condition of morality. The state and law continually affect both public opinion and actions; in its turn law reflects public opinion and thus acts as the index of moral progress”.

Difference between Law and Morality:

(1) There is a marked distinction between law and morality. The first point of difference is that laws are enforced by the state whereas canons of morality are followed at the call of institution. If one disobeys the commands of law or violates the laws, he is liable to be punished by the state but if one fails to observe the scruples of morality, he is not liable to be awarded physical punishment. The severest punishment that can be awarded to a person for not observing the scruples of morality is his social boycott.

(2) Morality is concerned with both internal and external affairs of man whereas law is concerned only with the external affairs of man. Hence, law punishes only those persons who violate laws by their external actions. For example, law punishes a person only when he-commits a theft or dacoity or murder or any other physical crime.

Law cannot punish a person for telling a lie or for abusing some-one. Telling lies, condemning someone, showing disgrace to others, being ungrateful and many other internal actions of man are sins but they are not crimes.

(3) There are many things which are not illegal according to law but are unacceptable to morality. For example, telling lies, showing disgrace to others, feeling greedy, being ungrateful and not helping the poor, are not against the spirit of law.

Not only this, sometimes the adoption of immoral policies by the state for the cause of common welfare is not illegal in the eyes of laws. Machiavelli maintained that even the immoral practices are legal, if they are applied for the benefit of the state.

(4) Similarly, there are many things which are illegal in the eyes of the state but are acceptable to morality. For example, it is not a sin not to keep to the left or to drive the vehicle fast in the market. The fact is that the canons of morality are concerned with the moral duties whereas the laws of the state are concerned with the legal duties.

(5) Another point of distinction between law and morality is that laws are certain and universal and they are universally applicable to all citizens whereas the canons of morality are quite uncertain.

Not only this, many time’s different races have different canons of morality in a society. For example, a large number of people think it immoral to eat meat and drink wine. But at the same time, there are people in India who think it quite moral to eat meat and drink wine.

(6) The government should, at first, arouse the moral sentiment of the people and then enforce the laws. The laws which are not based on the sentiment of morality are less effective and less permanent.

For example, Sharda Act is quite ineffective these days. In the end, we can say that morality cannot be thrust upon the state. And it is also clear that law cannot cover all the ground of morality. “To turn all moral obligations”, says MacIver, “in legal obligations would be to destroy morality”. “There is thus a legal conscience as well as a moral conscience, and they do not always coincide”.

SAKHRI Mohamed
SAKHRI Mohamed

I hold a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and International Relations in addition to a Master's degree in International Security Studies. Alongside this, I have a passion for web development. During my studies, I acquired a strong understanding of fundamental political concepts and theories in international relations, security studies, and strategic studies.

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