Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Does morality legally rule society?

There's an argument that says that we live in a utilitarian society where everything is determined simply by rules of pleasure and pain, or, as an alternate, condemning what causes pain as being legally impermissible so as to ensure the most non-pain possible without further compulsory action. But is this really how things are? Some have argued, and I'm inclined to agree, that while a society may say that its code of conduct is simply derivative from a formula like avoiding causing pain, in point of fact a society can never get away from a more elaborated moral code.

This is enshrined in the notions contained in law. It has to be, by default, because Law and the place of a person with reference to legal processes are the one area where conduct absolutely has to be taken into account. When you look at the legal system, there are very clear standards of conduct that it expects on the part of folks, conduct that perhaps comes out more in civil cases than in criminal ones. It's very easy to see where right and wrong come down, in a very utilitarian sense, with regards to criminal acts, but in civil suits, where it's a measure of someone not keeping their word, or of acting in a way that's very detrimental to an individual without necessarily being criminal, it's a different story.

Not only that but civil law complements criminal law, so that criminal law is thought to be pursued by society itself in order to preserve its sense of justice, while civil law deals with making right the state of an individual who has been wronged.

If you look at the ideas contained in civil law, you see quite a bit of moral judgment on individuals about what is reasonably right or wrong personal conduct with regards to integrity, duty, and honesty. These things form an implicit moral code that governs our society, albeit one which isn't taught or even discussed. We're just all supposed to "know" that you should act in certain ways that will end up being in harmony with civil law.

Society, in this scenario, always has an implicit moral code because such a thing is necessary for wrongs beyond the most crude to be righted.

With that in mind, it's worth asking why exactly the types of things that are discussed within civil law are never discussed within schools, or within society itself as a whole. Ideas about duty, obligation, moral integrity, and honesty, are regarded as being so out of place in discussion that even to suggest that individuals naturally have some of these in relation to their fellow men and women is to bring up the accusation of imposing one's moral agenda on someone else. But that's what our society legally runs on.

In point of fact, when things like virtue or conduct beyond not physically hurting people or stealing, get put out there the accusations of being an oppressive extremist blossom. I think that a more appropriate response would be to question why exactly people aren't thinking of these things already, and why it's so much of a shock to folks when people come into the public sphere wanting to talk about these things.

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