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Morality is ?

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Morality is about how one ought to live one’s life

Therefore, by living morally one follows a code of conduct, one’s behaviour is good and conforms to certain standards.  Law is clearly also a code of conduct.


Morality and law constrain what we do.  For many people the fact that an act is immoral is sufficient reason not to do it.  For others, the threat of the law, the punishment is the reason for not doing it.  Laws are enforced by punishment; morals rely on individual conscience, social condemnation and respect or fear of God.


Immanuel Kant (Prussian Philosopher born 1724)

In his work “Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals” (1785) Kant held that if you refrain from acting badly because you fear God or legal punishment, you are not really acting morally - a moral act must be done for the sake of morality.


Kant – the Categorical Imperative

Kant formulated the Categorical Imperative, as a basis of one’s moral duty:

"Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law."

Kant gave examples of this imperative as meaning we should not lie, because if every one lied no one could be believed.  This would even extend to not lying to a murderer who enquired where his potential victim was hiding.  There is also a duty not to make false promises, and a duty not to neglect others,


Kant’s position is that the Supreme Good can be detected by rational thought and does not come from God.


Selective law breaking

The argument of those who believe there is a separation between law and morality, that not everything that is illegal is immoral, assumes that it is not always immoral to break the law.


Yet some philosophers argue that breaking the law, even pointless laws, is morally wrong, and that in doing so one acts badly; the law presents itself as a seamless web, and its subjects are not permitted to select which ones they ought to obey.


A number of reasons have been offered as to why one is morally obligated to obey law.


One reason appeals to the argument that if we allowed some violations of law, lawbreaking could spread, resulting in social disorder. One problem with this argument is that widespread disobedience does occur in some cases, such as speeding, without leading to social unrest.


A second argument is that people who benefit from laws have an obligation, of fairness or gratitude, to contribute to the cooperative venture providing the benefits by obeying the law.


Still another argument is that we are morally obligated to obey laws because by consenting to government we have promised that we will; violating a law is immoral in the way breaking a promise is.


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