Law and Morality

Ever since law has been recognised as an effective instrument of social ordering there has been an ongoing debate on its relationship with morality.

According to Salmond, natural or moral law means the principles of natural rights and wrongs.

According to Paton, morals or ethics is a study of the supreme good. In general, morality has been defined to include “all manner of rules, standards, principles or norms by which men regulate, guide and control their relationships with themselves and with others.”


Both, law and morality, have a common origin. In fact, morals gave rise to laws. When the State came into being, it picked up the rules (customs, morals, etc.) which were important from the society’s point of view and which could be secured by it. The State put its own sanction behind these rules and enforced them. These rules were given the name “law”. In the words of Hart: “The law of every modern State shows at a thousand points the influence of both the accepted social morality and wider moral ideal.”

Both, law and morality, have a common object or end in so far as both of them direct the actions of men in such a way as to produce maximum social and individual good. Both, law and morality, regulate the external human behaviour or actions and have nothing to do with state of mind unless translated into action. Both, law and morality, are backed by social or external sanction.

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Bentham said that legislation has the same centre with morals, but it has not the same circumference. The points of differences between law and morals are:

(i) While emphasis of morals is on absolute ideals, law concerns itself only with actual standards. The extent of morality is much wider than of law, as it regulates both one’s relationship with others as well as himself. Morality is a guide which leads the individuals through all his life, all his relations with his fellow. Law does not go to that extent nor it ought to. Objective of law is to create an ordered society, morals on the other hand help create good men and consequently good society.

(ii) The contents of law and morality differ, although they often coincide. Morality is generally the basis of law, i.e. illegal (murder, theft, etc.) is also immoral. But there are many immoral acts such as, sexual relationship between two unmarried adults, or hard-heartedness, ingratitude, etc., which are immoral but are not illegal.

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Similarly, there may be laws which are not based upon morals and some of them may be even opposed to morals, e.g. laws on technical matters, traffic laws, etc.

Generally speaking, however, while all laws may be directly or remotely traced back to some moral considerations, all morals are not translated into law.

(iii) Morality confers greater burden than the benefits. For example, honesty and kind-heartedness may cost a man more than what he gets in material terms. Law always tries to balance between the restrictions on the individual and gains to him or to the society. It will not put a greater burden than the resultant benefits. That is why in some countries, suicide or homosexuality is no longer an offence.

(iv) The morals are to be followed as they are good in themselves, while law is followed for the purposes of smooth running of the society. Further, one is free to observe and practice morality, but law one is bound to obey.

(v) There is an organised and regularised machinery of the State to enforce the laws; morals are not enforced by such machinery. Further, laws are properly expressed and assembled, while morals are not expressed precisely.

(vi) Morals have universal application, while law varies from State to State.

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Several jurists have observed that law must conform to morals, and the law which does not conform to morals must be disobeyed and the government which makes such law should be overthrown. In modern times, though this theory does not exist, but in practice to a great extent law conforms to morals. Paton says: If the law lags behind popular standard, it falls into disrepute, if the legal standards are too high, there are great difficulties of enforcement.

History has proved that an illegal, illegitimate and autocratic government has not survive for long and it ultimately succumb to the popular pressure.

According to some jurists, the purpose of the law is do justice. Paton said that justice is the end of law. In its popular sense, the word ‘justice’ is based on morals. Thus, such morals being part of justice, becomes end of justice. The ends which the preamble of our Constitution tries to achieve are the morals.

Thus, law and morals depends on each other. Morals have taken important place in the sphere of law in the name of justice, equity, good faith, etc. Morals play important role in restraining powers of legislature because it cannot enact a law against the morals of the society. Whole life of the man cannot be regulated by law alone and the same is true of

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