What’s More Important, Morals or Laws?
What exactly are morals? Are they subconscious guidelines for living, enforced by our parents when we were younger? Are they just lessons we derived from children’s stories as to how to act?
The answer is that they are none of those. Morals are a person’s standards of behavior or beliefs concerning what is and is not acceptable for them to do.
Our morals are shaped by our families, our friends, and our experiences in life, and it is this set of beliefs we form from childhood that determine our day-to-day decisions.
However, what if such beliefs conflict with government laws or societal boundaries set in schools or public places? How does one decide between doing what feels morally right to them or remaining a law-abiding citizen? As Neal Tognazzini, an assistant philosophy professor at Western Washington University put it,
“Often rules are stated in very general terms but the people who wrote the rule didn’t really intend for it to put someone in a position where they felt like they needed to do the wrong thing in order to follow the rule. If honest consideration of the purpose of the rule leads you to think that you are in this sort of situation, I think that makes it easier to justify breaking the rule.”
In simpler terms, it is more justifiable to breaking the law if the mass majority of the population in a given area, deems the act as moral.
So what facts should be considered when making a decision between morals and rules?
One personal recommendation is comparing the pros and cons of each potential path. If the cons of one path seems too great to deal with and the pros do not outweigh the consequences, then the logical choice is to choose the alternate path. Each decision could potentially change a life so it is critical to compare your options.
If our morals conflict with the law, then why would such disagreeable laws be established in the first place? Well, many laws are subjective, meaning they benefit the mass majority even if they only make a few happy with such laws being in place.
An example being laws concerning weapon control in populated places. Without such restrictions, anyone could carry an AK 47 and the next time you went to Olive Garden, your waiter could freely carry a machete. Might want to think twice before you decide not to tip them.
One must think, are morals and laws really that different though?
The answer is no. Many morals just happen to be lawful and many laws happen to be moral so having to choose between the two is luckily not a frequent occurrence for many people.
Many things like not committing murder or stealing property is common sense and a moral choice for many. However, there are laws also enforcing such morals. In fact, many laws are based off of morals decided by the mass majority of the US. So all in all, neither morals no laws are more important than the other for they both depend on each other. Without one, the other would slip.
I do think laws are important. Or, at least, it seems like there has to be some form of agreement or contract among individuals so that we can all work together and be assured of living in relative safety and peace. -Tognazzini
What’s the best word of advice that I can offer you if you’re ever faced with a decision between your morals or the laws instilled by the government or society?
Take your time, think thoroughly about what it is you want from this decision and what could possibly go wrong. Most importantly, if you decide to break the law, don’t get caught.