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Old 09-06-2019, 10:17 PM
Little Nemo is online now
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Do you feel laws are based on morality?


In the now-locked thread Are you pro-choice because you are smart? we got into a discussion of the connection between law and morality.

My position can be summed up by what I posted in the other thread: I believe the law is just a codified expression of our moral consensus. I feel that people make decisions about what acts are moral and what acts are immoral and when the opinion is widespread in a society it becomes expressed as a law.

Other posters disagreed with this viewpoint but I won't try to speak on their behalf and possibly misrepresent what their opinions were. (You can click on the link above to see what was posted.)

So do you feel laws are based on morality? Or do you feel that law and morality are two separate things? If you feel the law is separate from morality, what do you feel the basis of law is?
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Old 09-06-2019, 10:42 PM
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Some laws like murder and theft are based on morality. Other laws certainly are not. Many of the laws pushed and passed nowadays have even been written by lobbyists to benefit their clients. Some laws have been designed to limit or otherwise pervert out voting system to favor one party or the other.
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Old 09-06-2019, 10:46 PM
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I think the basis of law was an effort to codify the moral consensus of a population.

As OldGuy points out, tho, many laws created today have little to do with morality and a lot do with self-interest.

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Old 09-06-2019, 11:01 PM
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In our society, I think law is meant as a balance between morality and freedom. Most folks think adultery is wrong, for example, along with a whole host of personal transgressions (betraying a friend, etc.), but those things are not illegal.
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Old 09-06-2019, 11:51 PM
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Some laws exist solely to create order. In the United States we have a law that says drivers drive on the right side of the highway; in Scotland and England, they have a law that says drivers drive on the left. This is not a disagreement about morality. People in both locales would generally agree that the important thing is to have an established rule, to make driving predictable.

With that as an introduction, there are a lot of laws that establish and maintain social order, and they have, among their supporters, a lot of people who do not so much think that the specific social order that is maintained is moral and all others immoral, as they think we need norms, so as to have social predictability. And they are willing to discard a significant amount of personal human freedom in order to have that social predictability.

If you could isolate the people who think that way and escort them out of the room temporarily, there would still be people who do indeed think that people bloody well ought to behave a certain way or else they are immoral, and this is in the absence of any demonstrated harm to anyone — just that some behaviors ain't right and oughta be forbidden.

Escort them also out of the room and you have people who believe the only things that are immoral behaviors are behaviors that victimize people. They mostly pinpoint coercive behaviors, behaviors that affect other people without their consent, and especially those that appear to do permanent damage of some sort as attested to by people who have been on the receiving end of such behaviors.
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Old 09-07-2019, 12:07 AM
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Some laws like murder and theft are based on morality. Other laws certainly are not. Many of the laws pushed and passed nowadays have even been written by lobbyists to benefit their clients. Some laws have been designed to limit or otherwise pervert out voting system to favor one party or the other.
But laws like this are being sold as moral issues. People don't say "Congress should abolish environmental regulations because my client wants to cut his costs and make more profits." They say "We need to promote the free market to improve the quality of life for ourselves and future generations." And laws about voting restrictions are always promoted as attempts to fight voter fraud which it's claimed is threatening democracy.

The fact that special interests feel the need to package their agenda as moral issues supports the belief, in my opinion, that laws are generally seen as moral issues.
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Old 09-07-2019, 12:38 AM
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[QUOTE=Little Nemo;21846075And laws about voting restrictions are always promoted as attempts to fight voter fraud which it's claimed is threatening democracy.

The fact that special interests feel the need to package their agenda as moral issues supports the belief, in my opinion, that laws are generally seen as moral issues.[/QUOTE]

I don't believe this is true. Gerrymandering is not promoted as an attempt to fight voter fraud. In fact it is being fought in court by saying the Federal government has no right to prevent legislatures from operating to benefit the part in power.

And even if those promoting the laws try to argue it is on a moral ground, I don't believe it falls within your original idea that "law is just a codified expression of our moral consensus." Apparently 90% favor background checks. That sounds like a consensus to me. 60% of Americans say that Health Care the government's responsibility - consensus if not quite so big. Two-thirds of Americans support legal status for the "Dreamers". Americans oppose Trump's wall 56% to 38%. I would say each of those is a moral position that is not being enacted into law.
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Old 09-07-2019, 02:26 AM
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In general, morality considers what you should do. Laws speak to what to you should not do. There is always going to be an area of things that are immoral and also not illegal. Or all the roofers in America would be serving time in county jails. Or fat people. Or people who cheat on their wives. Or salesmen. Or lawyers, (ok, that's probably not a valid example).

The point is you can't have a law that says don't do wrong things, you have to say what those things are, and I think "don't be immoral" is just too general.
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Old 09-07-2019, 02:37 AM
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That depends among other things on which definition of "morality" you use.

If you define "morality" as we did in my philosophy class, that is, "what is considered acceptable and unacceptable by a specific culture" then the answer is "well, d'uh!"

If you're thinking of morality in absolute and universal terms then no, because no culture has current values which are absolute and universal.

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Old 09-07-2019, 03:27 AM
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If you define "morality" as we did in my philosophy class, that is, "what is considered acceptable and unacceptable by a specific culture" then the answer is "well, d'uh!"
That's pretty much the way I see it, which is why I was surprised when people disagreed.

My point is that I feel that almost all laws (I'll grant AHunter3's point that there are a few laws which just establish a neutral standard) can be traced back to a moral belief. Laws don't originate from some objective rational proof that an action should be illegal; if they did, then every society would have the same set of laws just as every society shares the same mathematics or chemistry. Laws originate from a moral belief that doing something is wrong; laws differ from place to place or from past to present because moral beliefs change.
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Old 09-07-2019, 03:34 AM
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And even if those promoting the laws try to argue it is on a moral ground, I don't believe it falls within your original idea that "law is just a codified expression of our moral consensus." Apparently 90% favor background checks. That sounds like a consensus to me. 60% of Americans say that Health Care the government's responsibility - consensus if not quite so big. Two-thirds of Americans support legal status for the "Dreamers". Americans oppose Trump's wall 56% to 38%. I would say each of those is a moral position that is not being enacted into law.
I believe laws derive from moral beliefs. Which means it takes time for a moral belief to grow and become widespread enough for it to be reflected in laws. This is especially true because moral beliefs can be vague and contradictory. It can take time for society to reach a consensus on how a general moral belief applies in a specific case or to work out a resolution between conflicting moral beliefs.
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Old 09-07-2019, 11:38 AM
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In our society, I think law is meant as a balance between morality and freedom. Most folks think adultery is wrong, for example, along with a whole host of personal transgressions (betraying a friend, etc.), but those things are not illegal.
if you google, there are 20 states where it is still illegal, and in 3 states it's a felony
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Old 09-07-2019, 11:54 AM
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In our society, I think law is meant as a balance between morality and freedom.
But one way to look at it is that freedom is a moral value, albeit one that is sometimes in conflict with other moral values.

I think law is sometimes a balance between morality and practicality.
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Old 09-07-2019, 01:31 PM
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There are multiple competing factors in what the law says. At root the law says what the people who hold power over society want it to say.

There are various agendas of society depending on who holds power.

In the modern west, yeah you can make the argument that the law is mostly a reflection of morality.

But its also a reflection of the economic interests of the powerful (lots of form of competition in the marketplace are illegal).

It used to be illegal for slaves to run away, or to educate them. Again, it wasn't in the economic interests of the powerful.

People may have social hierarchies that they want enforced via the law. So there is that.

Basically it depends on who runs society at any given time.

If I had to guess, I'd say shared morality, protecting the economic interests of the powerful and protecting the grip on political power of the current ruling class are the main factors in what is legal or illegal.
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Old 09-07-2019, 04:11 PM
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Laws' main purposes are to ensure the functioning of a society. That society itself may be founded upon certain ideas and principles of what is considered moral but its not the laws themselves that are based in morality. *Some* laws are pragmatic solutions to the realization of those moral beliefs. But *all* laws are based on pragmatism and functionality. And many laws have *nothing* to do with morality, even indirectly. Murder is not illegal due to its immorality, its due to the fact that civilization as we know it would just collapse if people were allowed to kill each other with impunity.
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Old 09-07-2019, 06:56 PM
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Another Kropotkin put it this way: “The law is an adroit mixture of customs that are beneficial to society, and could be followed even if no law existed, and others that are of advantage to a ruling minority, but harmful to the masses of men, and can be enforced on them only by terror.”
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Old 09-07-2019, 07:48 PM
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if you google, there are 20 states where it is still illegal, and in 3 states it's a felony
What are chances of being arrested and prosecuted for it? I found one case in 2001, but none more recent. I don't think most people who commit adultery know or care that it's illegal some places.
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Old 09-07-2019, 10:47 PM
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Murder is not illegal due to its immorality, its due to the fact that civilization as we know it would just collapse if people were allowed to kill each other with impunity.
Around eighty million people were killed in World War II and civilization survived. So the act of killing people, by itself, does not cause civilization to collapse.
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Old 09-07-2019, 10:50 PM
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There are multiple competing factors in what the law says. At root the law says what the people who hold power over society want it to say.

There are various agendas of society depending on who holds power.

In the modern west, yeah you can make the argument that the law is mostly a reflection of morality.

But its also a reflection of the economic interests of the powerful (lots of form of competition in the marketplace are illegal).

It used to be illegal for slaves to run away, or to educate them. Again, it wasn't in the economic interests of the powerful.

People may have social hierarchies that they want enforced via the law. So there is that.

Basically it depends on who runs society at any given time.

If I had to guess, I'd say shared morality, protecting the economic interests of the powerful and protecting the grip on political power of the current ruling class are the main factors in what is legal or illegal.
I think you've raised a good point. I tend to think of American laws or at least the laws of western countries where the general population has a say in the government.

But in a dictatorship, the people do not control the government. And the dictator and his regime might enact laws with more of an eye for what keeps them in power than what's moral, even judging by their own moral standards.
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Old 09-08-2019, 01:12 AM
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That's pretty much the way I see it, which is why I was surprised when people disagreed.
A lot of people think that their mores (Latin "customs") are absolute. Often, the same people who say that this or that thing should be banned because "it's wrong!!!" are the ones who get miffed when they travel Elsewhere (which can be three villages over there) and not only are things not exactly like Back Home: the locals insist that their way works just fine!

In one of the first lessons of my Philosophy class we defined ethics as being that dreamed-of universal and morals as being the diverse localized versions of that ideal: this allowed us to have conversations talking about both concepts without confusion. When people use both terms interchangeably, confusion not only can ensue but will.
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Old 09-08-2019, 01:19 AM
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I think you've raised a good point. I tend to think of American laws or at least the laws of western countries where the general population has a say in the government.

But in a dictatorship, the people do not control the government. And the dictator and his regime might enact laws with more of an eye for what keeps them in power than what's moral, even judging by their own moral standards.
Ah, but that's a situation where a primary moral standard is Might Makes Right.

(Most) Russians luuuuuuurve themselves a strongman. Having a Putin isn't something they put up with, it gives them a hard-on.
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Old 09-08-2019, 02:29 PM
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Morality is about what a person thinks people should do. Law is about what the government thinks people should do. These things sounds like they should be in alignment, the bulk of laws, as best I can tell, have nothing whatsoever to do with what people consider moral issues, so it's pretty clear to me that government and people have wildly different ideas about what people should do. Yes, there is some overlap, but to say that laws are based on morality is to say that the bulk of laws will have been based on moral issues. This is not the case, not even close, so I think that the case for laws being based on morality is very, very weak.

And the fact that politicians like to sell their desired laws as being moral issues for the purpose of manipulating the emotions of their electorate is not evidence that the laws in question are based on morals.
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Old 09-08-2019, 03:30 PM
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My position can be summed up by what I posted in the other thread: I believe the law is just a codified expression of our moral consensus. I feel that people make decisions about what acts are moral and what acts are immoral and when the opinion is widespread in a society it becomes expressed as a law.
Historically, that would appear to be how the English Common Law emerged.
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Old 09-08-2019, 03:45 PM
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Around eighty million people were killed in World War II and civilization survived. So the act of killing people, by itself, does not cause civilization to collapse.
That was not killing people with *impunity*, laws govern wartime behavior as well.
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Old 09-08-2019, 03:50 PM
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No I don't think it's based on morality, but revenge. Though that is not hard and fast and sometimes morals will coincide with revenge. Morality is based in Love, law is based on punishment and fear. Polar opposites in intent.
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Old 09-08-2019, 09:44 PM
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That was not killing people with *impunity*, laws govern wartime behavior as well.
And what do you think distinguishes allowable killing from unallowable killing? Some term for a general system of judging what's right and wrong?
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Old 09-08-2019, 10:45 PM
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And what do you think distinguishes allowable killing from unallowable killing? Some term for a general system of judging what's right and wrong?
A general system for determining what is beneficial for the preservation/growth of a society. It is beneficial to make murder illegal. The breakdown of society wouldn't come by way of sheer number of people killed (if murder wasn't a crime). The *functioning* of that society would quickly deteriorate; all of the interactions that work together to allow society to function smoothly would be in chaos.
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Old 09-08-2019, 10:57 PM
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A general system for determining what is beneficial for the preservation/growth of a society. It is beneficial to make murder illegal. The breakdown of society wouldn't come by way of sheer number of people killed (if murder wasn't a crime). The *functioning* of that society would quickly deteriorate; all of the interactions that work together to allow society to function smoothly would be in chaos.
How exactly? People die all the time. How would their deaths by murder cause a breakdown of society?
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Old 09-09-2019, 01:01 PM
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How exactly? People die all the time. How would their deaths by murder cause a breakdown of society?
Thats not exactly what I said. I didnt say, "if all the people who die by other causes were to die by murder it would cause a breakdown of society". I said if murder was not illegal it would cause a breakdown in society. All those other deaths would still occur.

But lets say you dont feel like paying for a new car? Just kill the dealer and take it. Dont like the way that guy is looking at you in traffic? Shoot the fucker! Hate indiscriminately? Shoot everyone at your high school.

You are a smart guy, i dont need to tell you how, en masse, these types of unchecked behaviors would render a society unworkable.

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Old 09-09-2019, 03:54 PM
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Thats not exactly what I said. I didnt say, "if all the people who die by other causes were to die by murder it would cause a breakdown of society". I said if murder was not illegal it would cause a breakdown in society. All those other deaths would still occur.

But lets say you dont feel like paying for a new car? Just kill the dealer and take it. Dont like the way that guy is looking at you in traffic? Shoot the fucker! Hate indiscriminately? Shoot everyone at your high school.

You are a smart guy, i dont need to tell you how, en masse, these types of unchecked behaviors would render a society unworkable.
Well, more accurately people would band together into groups where the people in the group would swear to exact vengeance upon anybody who kills one of the group. These groups would eventually expand into entire villages that had announced that they would exact vengeance upon those that murder, or steal, or disturb the peace.

And thus are laws born. Not from morality, but from a desire for public order/less murders.
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Old 09-09-2019, 04:44 PM
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Law is a mixture of morality, practicality and self interest. Any law you choose will likely fit into one or more of these categories.

Where we wander into real trouble is when folks claim that the law defines morality.
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Old 09-09-2019, 04:46 PM
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Where we wander into real trouble is when folks claim that the law defines morality.
Or that their morals should be law.
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Old 09-09-2019, 04:53 PM
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Everyone thinks that their morals should be law, and it would be a very bad thing if people didn't think that. The problems you're referring to arise because some people's morals are wrong, and people with wrong morals cause problems even if they haven't managed to get them codified into law.

There should be laws against murder, because murder is morally wrong. There should not be laws against gay marriage, because gay marriage is not morally wrong. The people who think that gay marriage is morally wrong are incorrect.
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Old 09-09-2019, 04:58 PM
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No. Laws often purport to be about morality, but the actual implementation doesn't follow a process of 'this is a bad thing, let's punish/restrict it' but instead is a series of compromises and approximations based on what deals can be struck and how well it fits the mood at the time of passage. For example, in the US an 18 year old with nude pics of his 16 year old girlfriend who goes to the same high school is committing felony possession of child porn, even if the general consensus is that it's at worst something he should get grounded for. Meanwhile a 40 year old who exerts pressure to get a marriage to a 12-year-old and has actual sex with her is acting completely legally as long as he does it in a state with no minimum age for marriage, even if most people would be horrified at the union. I am certain that no one set down and said 'an 18 year old with nude pics of his 2-years-younger girlfriend is utterly terrible, but a 40 year old having sex with a girl 3 decades younger is fine'.
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Old 09-09-2019, 05:11 PM
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Everyone thinks that their morals should be law, and it would be a very bad thing if people didn't think that. The problems you're referring to arise because some people's morals are wrong, and people with wrong morals cause problems even if they haven't managed to get them codified into law.

There should be laws against murder, because murder is morally wrong. There should not be laws against gay marriage, because gay marriage is not morally wrong. The people who think that gay marriage is morally wrong are incorrect.
Gah.

(That's right, Gah.)

You speak as though there is 1) objective morality, and 2) what's objectively moral is obvious to all (except a handful of deviants maybe). I strongly disagree with both these ideas.

The notion that morals should be law is fraught with peril, for reasons that should be obvious when I point out that about half of our lawmakers have moral systems that are the diametric opposite of everything you value.

The reason that murder should be illegal is because rampant unpunished murder is bad for society. The reason that gay marriage should be legal is because gay marriage is not bad for society. Legislating from morality is how you lose gay marriage, not gain it.
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Old 09-09-2019, 05:46 PM
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Thats not exactly what I said. I didnt say, "if all the people who die by other causes were to die by murder it would cause a breakdown of society". I said if murder was not illegal it would cause a breakdown in society. All those other deaths would still occur.

But lets say you dont feel like paying for a new car? Just kill the dealer and take it. Dont like the way that guy is looking at you in traffic? Shoot the fucker! Hate indiscriminately? Shoot everyone at your high school.

You are a smart guy, i dont need to tell you how, en masse, these types of unchecked behaviors would render a society unworkable.
I agree society would collapse. But I can explain why I think this. If people began murdering each other, it would be a breakdown in the moral order.

You're agreeing society would collapse. But you keep saying it's not a moral issue.

So what is it? Would it be because of the number of people dying? Do you feel society would break down if a new disease struck humanity and killed off tens of millions of people? I don't.
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Old 09-09-2019, 05:50 PM
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No. Laws often purport to be about morality, but the actual implementation doesn't follow a process of 'this is a bad thing, let's punish/restrict it' but instead is a series of compromises and approximations based on what deals can be struck and how well it fits the mood at the time of passage. For example, in the US an 18 year old with nude pics of his 16 year old girlfriend who goes to the same high school is committing felony possession of child porn, even if the general consensus is that it's at worst something he should get grounded for. Meanwhile a 40 year old who exerts pressure to get a marriage to a 12-year-old and has actual sex with her is acting completely legally as long as he does it in a state with no minimum age for marriage, even if most people would be horrified at the union. I am certain that no one set down and said 'an 18 year old with nude pics of his 2-years-younger girlfriend is utterly terrible, but a 40 year old having sex with a girl 3 decades younger is fine'.
I've said before that the laws are based on a moral consensus. It's not one person deciding what they think is right or wrong.
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Old 09-09-2019, 05:57 PM
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You speak as though there is 1) objective morality, and 2) what's objectively moral is obvious to all (except a handful of deviants maybe). I strongly disagree with both these ideas.
I fully agree. That's my whole point. Laws aren't based on anything objective. If they were, then our laws would just be discovered by scientists. Somebody would collect the evidence, establish that slavery, for example, is counter-productive, publish the figures, and then everyone would enact laws ending slavery. The law would work like chemistry or physics. It would be a process of revealing objective truths.

But that's not how it works. Our morality is completely subjective. And our laws reflect that.
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Old 09-09-2019, 06:19 PM
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I fully agree. That's my whole point. Laws aren't based on anything objective. If they were, then our laws would just be discovered by scientists. Somebody would collect the evidence, establish that slavery, for example, is counter-productive, publish the figures, and then everyone would enact laws ending slavery. The law would work like chemistry or physics. It would be a process of revealing objective truths.

But that's not how it works. Our morality is completely subjective. And our laws reflect that.
Scientists don't come up with laws because the laws predate the scientists and the people who make the laws don't bother to ask the scientists opinions (and sometimes seem to hate science, even).

Laws get formalized because somebody wants the laws made - and only sometimes does their reason for it involve morality. In the case of murder I'm pretty confident it didn't involve morality - the practical downsides of living in a murder-filled hellhole are so amazingly obvious that if you ARE in a murder-filled hellhole you'll be actively working to create a bubble of civilization where murder (at least of you) isn't allowed. Wanting not to be murdered isn't a moral thing.

Similarly, criminalizing theft clearly had a lot less to do with theft being immoral and a lot more to do with people going all vigilante if the government isn't doing the job.

Laws only can start involving morality when the bottom two levels of Mazlow's pyramid are taken care of for the people doing the law-creation on the subject in question. Which is to say, people can only start worrying about the morality of slavery when they're not overly concerned about being enslaved themselves. Prior to that point it's not a moral issue; it's a safety and comfort issue.

Which I guess is a long way of saying that law-based morality only comes into play when you're telling other people what to do. So while some laws are based in morality, a whole lot of other ones aren't. (And that's not even mentioning stuff like traffic laws, which also aren't.)

Last edited by begbert2; 09-09-2019 at 06:20 PM. Reason: typo
  #40  
Old 09-09-2019, 06:23 PM
Ambivalid is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Little Nemo View Post
I agree society would collapse. But I can explain why I think this. If people began murdering each other, it would be a breakdown in the moral order.

You're agreeing society would collapse. But you keep saying it's not a moral issue.

So what is it? Would it be because of the number of people dying? Do you feel society would break down if a new disease struck humanity and killed off tens of millions of people? I don't.
Ive said repeatedly, ever since your example of 80 million dying in WII and society not collapsing, that it would *not* be because of the number of people dying. It would be because the public trust in everyday transactional as well as emotional interactions would be destroyed.

And you really *havent* explained why society would collapse if murder was not illegal. You just asserted society would breakdown because the moral order had broken down. That almost sounds circular to me.
  #41  
Old 09-09-2019, 09:10 PM
Hari Seldon is online now
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Laws are mostly based on public order. If murder was legal, then any killing would be likely to result in a revenge killing and ultimately in vicious feuds. It's when laws are based on supposed morals that troubles begin.

You think adultery is immoral? Outlaw it. You think that drugs is immoral? Ban it and put the users in prison for a long long time. You think that violation of laws is immoral? Then make prisons places of revenge not rehabilitation. And be sure to make their incarceration public so that they won't be able to find a job or place to live when they do get out. As mentioned above, traffic laws are not about morals, but order.

Unfortunately, all too many powerful people confuse their self-interest with the requirements of public order. What's good for General Motors is good for the country. The argument against regulation is really public order against private interest.
  #42  
Old 09-10-2019, 01:41 PM
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Originally Posted by Little Nemo View Post
I've said before that the laws are based on a moral consensus. It's not one person deciding what they think is right or wrong.
And I've said that I disagree with this. I do not believe that there is a moral consensus that a man in his 40s should be able to have sex with a girl not even in her teens as long as he marries her first. While there is some small minority that believes that, there's nothing close to a consensus on that issue. Instead what happens is that a variety of compromises and dated laws come together to produce that result, and there is a lack of consensus on how to change the law in a way that prevents that particular bad outcome, plus a lack of will to force that particular issue.
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