Morality and the Law - Is it even possible to divorce the two?

Is there any way to create a system of laws that is not an expression of people’s moral choices?

All laws are designed to promote certain outcomes, but the only way to choose these outcomes is make a choice about moral goods. If you want a society that is designed to have maximum personal freedom, that is a moral choice. If you want a society that is designed to the maximum chance of that society’s survival (as opposed to a society that burns out in an orgy of consumption), that is a moral choice.

When people say that the government should not outlaw something like homosexual behavior because people should be free to do what they want as long as it does not hurt anyone else, aren’t they making a moral choice just as much as the people that want to outlaw homosexual behavior?

One side wants a society that maximum personal freedom and other side wants a society that limits personal freedom, but both these are choices. There is no natural property of the universe that tells us what kind of society to have. There is no natural right to personal freedom. We have to make moral choices about the kind of society we want.

Well, sure, I think that’s a fairly noncontroversial position there.

Most laws are not set up from a position of morality, but practicality. We need to have traffic regulated, and so laws have (arbitrarily) defined stop signs, one-way streets, etc. It’s not driven by morality, but by the simple need to get along by societal agreement on who has the right-of-way. Similarly, laws against robbery and murder are not necessarily promulgated based on morality, but on practicality of trying to maintain some sort of society. Allowing people to steal or murder at whim would pretty much undermine any notion of society.

So, I’m not sure that it’s morality-driven. I think it’s more a question of practicality. And some societies think they can along perfectly well without monogamy (say), while other societies feel that polygamy is detrimental to the social fabric (and the tax structure.)

Seems like a natural right to me, according to our founding document…

But underneath the practicality is a decision to have a ordered society. Why is an ordered society what we want? There is no natural principle we can look to. Why even have a society? For a large part of human history people did not live in what we would call a society. They lived in small bands of hunter-gathers. Law and other inventions are creations that humans made to increase the efficiency of their agriculture based societies. There is nothing that tells us to live in agriculture based societies and not everyone agrees that it was wise for humans to choose to live in agriculture based societies (see the Diamond piece linked below). But an agriculture based society can produce more stuff and kill of hunter-gathers so those that chose agriculture based societies had a distinct advantage. But, at the bottom, there is a choice to live in agriculture based societies. But this choice is not an objective choice. It is a moral choice about what kind of world we want to live in.

Translation - We have no actual argument that these “truths” are actually true, so will be will just state them as axioms.

It is just a postulate.

Edit - And there is also no evidence that humans have a creator.

But aren’t all of those things driven by moralixy C K Dexter?

The state has a moral obligation to:
provide safe transit to its citizens, and provide a consistent theme for travelers.
provide safety for its citizens by prohibiting bandits, thiefs, and brigands
provide a secure and stable society for citizens

Only if robots were in charge of the law making process, then it wouldn’t be an expression of the people’s moral choices.

Otherwise every choice you make is a moral expression. Even when doing something like ordering pizza, you feel there is nothing morally preventing you from order the pizza. If morality is your choices, how could the law possibly not be part of that.

Tribes that, in opposition to the notions of the 18th C’s “Noble Savage”, had levels of inter-tribal violence that (on a purely per capita basis) make 20th C Western society’s deaths from violence pale. (No cite to hand – and google-fu is failing – this is from memory of statistics quoted in Pinker’s “Blank Slate”, and those figures included the deaths from WWI and WWII. IIRC, among the Yanamamo a male adult had something like a 60% chance of dying from violence).

You are asserting that hunter-gathers have no laws?

So it’s not so much a choice as an evolutionary imperative? One can either be an agriculturalist or be marginalized and eventually forced to extinction.

Nope. Objective. If agricultural societies prosper, and pre-agricultural societies fade, and assuming you can’t convince all of your enemies to hammer their ploughshares into… well into anything other than ploughs or swords… then your choices are post-tribal society or extinction. Is that then the moral choice? ('cos I’m seeing an evolutionary pressure against that “morality”). :slight_smile:

Because it’s more efficient, allowing us to have greater quality of life with less effort. Deciding to have a society has nothing to do with morality.

Of course it’s possible to divorce the two: have a small dictatorship run by a psychotic madman who repeals and rewrites all the laws on a whim and without basis in morality. Not to say this is likely to give you a very functional set of laws, but nonetheless it’s certainly possible this could occur.

Also, I second the statement that most laws are based in practicality, not (or at least not necessarily) morality. Zoning laws are amoral, as are many tax laws. (It’s moral to force people to give you money?) In fact when people do try to legislate their morality it usually just amounts to oppression of the group of people who didn’t make the law, or so it seems to me.

Trying to claim a moral basis for a society’s laws trying to promote the survival of the society seems spurious; we already have an incentive to hold society together present in the existence of the laws themselves. If the people involved weren’t trying to keep each other from killing or screwing each other over (for selfish self-preservation reasons, not moral ones), they’d be anarchists and have no laws at all.

Well the other postulate was royals and divine right of kings. IE: seem people were inherently better then everyone else.

The Constitution set up a system that attempted to spread the power out to the people, and protect them from abuse of power.

The founding fathers chose wisely.


Not in the sense that civilized do.

That is a choice.

If someone puts a gun to your head and tells you kill a child, you still have a choice.

He still making a choice on how society should be run based on first principles.HE is says that society should be run to meet his psychotic whims.

Deciding to base laws on practically is a decision how law should work.

All law is oppression.

Deciding whether to become an anarchist or not is a moral decision.

You do. However, that choice is now mitigated by outside influence. And outside of living through the experience, there is no way to realistically claim how you would react to such a situation.

The laws are made with an eye toward the well being of the society as a whole, not specific individuals, and at the base of it there is practicality, not morality. What are the best rules that allow the maximum allowable freedom to the majority with a minimum of restriction and still allow us to co-exist as a functioning society?

Not to say there aren’t morality (blue) laws, but the majority are not.

2.5, is there any decision, in your opinion, that is not a moral one?

Not in a democracy. If all people agree on it, how could it be oppressive? Don’t think I’m talking about the USA either. You can’t have 300 million people all agree. There are plenty of laws, for smaller groups, that don’t have that problem.

His argument is that we choose laws based on practicality because our morality says a practical society is better than an impractical one. I think he’s stretching the definition of morality quite a bit.

But that is a choice about how the law should work. It is not how Plato thought the law should work. It is not how slave based societies thought the law should work. We could choose to create laws that only serve to promote the survival of the society regardless of individual freedoms. Or we could to choose laws that promote individual freedom and do not stress societal survival or smooth running. Or we can try to find a proper blend (of couse we have to make a choice about the blending).

Yes, but not if it involves a question of what we should do.

That doesn’t really make sense. Not from a reasonable standpoint. 2.5, is that your assertion?