Relationship Between Law and Morality!
In primitive society, law and morality were hardly distinguished. For instance in ancient India, the term Dhama, denoted both law and morality. The Greek thinkers Plato and Aristotle identified the moral with the political. Such close identification of the two was a common feature of the ancient societies.
But with the growth of the state as a distinct political organisation, law began to be proclaimed by the sovereign and came to possess a character different from that of morality. Law and morality now differ in their scope and content as well as their sanction and their precision.
Differences of Scope and Content:
Law affects only a part of man’s life. It deals with those external human actions which can be brought under the purview of uniform legislation. Law cannot deal with man’s thoughts and motives. Matters of conscience also fall outside the scope of law. As Barker puts it, “In matters of conscience there is no compulsion.” Morality moreover, concerns itself with the entire life of man, i.e., with his motives and thoughts no less than with his actions. Acts which are not illegal may still be regarded as immoral.
Thus falsehood, ingratitude and meanness are all immoral though not always illegal. As long as a man does not cause injury to someone else by telling a lie, he is not doing anything illegal. The province of morality is one of voluntary self-determination whereas law operates in the area of obligatory action. An act is illegal because the law declares it to be so.
Thus riding a bicycle without a light is illegal, though there is no immorality involved therein. Smoking inside a cinema hall is illegal, though it has nothing to do with morality or immorality. Law creates a class of wrongs which are legal, not moral, wrongs. They are wrongs because they are illegal, not because they are immoral.
Law can prescribe external acts, but it cannot prescribe morality. Law is based on expediency. Acts which in themselves are not immoral are made illegal because it is expedient that they should be so prescribed. Thus, the domain of morality is much wider than the domain of law, and any attempt on the part of law to be co-extensive with morality is unlikely ever to succeed.
Differences of Sanctions:
Law is enforced by the state, and its disobedience is often punishable by fine, imprisonment, or both. Thus, the sanction behind law is the physical might of the state. But the sanctions of morality spring from individual conscience. As Gilchrist says, “Matters of the conscience must be decided by the conscience.” Moral actions are a matter of free choice and inclination of the individual.
The violation of morality is not visited by physical punishment, although it may sometimes mean social disapprobation or a social boycott. Law is thus a matter of force but morality cannot be enforced. The ethical appeal is always to the individual’s own sense of what is right or wrong, in the last resort always to his sense of what is good or evil.
Differences in Precision:
Law is precise and certain. There is no vagueness or ambiguity surrounding it. It is the same for everybody and consists of uniform rules of action. It may be found out from the statute book. There is only one body of rules applicable to all persons in identical circumstances. Morality, on the other hand, is subjective and is, therefore, vague and uncertain. It may differ from man to man, and is a matter of conscience and opinion.
In the words of MacIver, “There must be one legal code for all, but moral codes vary as much as the individual characters of which they are the expression.” Or again, “the sphere of morality can never, therefore, be coincident with the sphere of political law. Morality is always individual and always in relation to the whole presented situation of which the political fact is never more than an aspect.”