Sunday, October 31

Law vs Ethics

I've caught wind of two posts (here and here and here) about ethics and morality, and I'm going to throw my 2 cents into the fray. I've written two posts which touch on this to some degree (here and here)

The three protagonists are (following the summary by (Jeremy):
  • Mr Prosthesis defines ethics as love and since love cannot be forced, ethics cannot be legislated.
  • Wink holds a difference between morality and civil values is that morality is where we get from our religious values. Since religious truths (values) cannot be agreed upon, we shouldn't legislate based on them. The "rub" is how to tell them apart I would think.
  • Jeremy then goes on to point out the ironies inherent in Kerry's tortuous ruminations about religion and legislation especially with regards to abortion and stem-cell research. My take on Kerry's statements was they were "unstable under reflection" (that phrase borrowed from one (unremembered) NR writer).

My working definition, to lay some ground rules, is that when studying ethics you are studying "what is good". All else in ethics flows from that.

Point 1: Ethics and Law are more intimately intertwined than Mr Prosthesis indicates. Examine for example, Lacodaemon from just before through the Golden Age of Athens and the Peloponnesian War. Spartan Law and the ethics of the Peers certainly were intertwined. Thus the love for nation and comrade that the Spartan Peer felt (or as I would say what he saw as good) were in a fundamental way "forced" on him by the legal framework of his nation.

Point 2: Neither Law nor Ethics can "generate" the other. That is to say, neither Soviet Marxist Law nor the Code of Lycurgus) could be transplanted into modern-day America today. Given our ethics/values which we possess, we as a society would reject it.

So while law and ethics are inter-related, they are also inter-dependent.

Point 3: The confusing point Kerry tried to make, and Wink repeats, is maintaining one can as a legislator act other than from his ethic. Every man makes choices based on his ethic (what he feels is good). You can do no other. Defining what your ethic is takes self-knowledge, self-introspection, and study. Thinking that you make your choices otherwise is just self delusion. If your ethic flows from your faith, you can do no other than base your legal decisions based on what you feel is right.

Point 4: Reiterating what I said above, there is no real distinction when justifying a law between a secular or religious basis to support for a piece of legislature. For example, if a legislator believes for religious reasons that capital punishment is wrong, then fact that his justification is based on his faith is no different in principle from a legislator who makes the same decision based on his interpretation of Locke (or Hegel, Marx, Kant, or Roger Rabbit).

Update: Added to the Kerry v Kerry abortion stance here.