Morality vs. Legality

During the Debating Competition that was held over the weekend we were presented with a motion discussing whether ignorance can be used as a legal defense in court. Somewhere along the table (I think it was shortly after being called a group of ‘stupid little shits’) the debate became dragged down by the discussion of morality and legality. Those opposing allowing ignorance to be used in court as a defense said that by comitting a crime you were being immoral, and therefore you couldn’t claim ignorance. This is annoyed me on many levels.

The first reason is the fact that morals are completely subjective. They are based on the way you were raised, the culture you grew up in, the way you consider the outside world and personal experiences as you grow. What’s considered normal/acceptable in some cultures in completely looked down upon in others, a prime example of this is the Idol system in Japan. In Japan you teen and pre-teen popstars are idolised, where many of their biggest fans are middle-aged men. The idea that this would be considered acceptable in the Western World is very hard to imagine but it is a norm there.

The very nature of intellectual process, and the way it varies in people, will cause morality to change from person to person. Everyone is aware that people excel in different areas, some people are scientists, others aritsts, some excel in business and others have a way with words. The logical processing of the outside world gives people their different abilities, and if you rationale the world in a different way to someone else, you are unlikely to have a same set of belief standards as them.

Morals are also context sensitive. Most of us would agree that in a general killing is wrong, yet many do not look negatively at service men. Lieing is generally not the greatest of things, but no one would say that little white lies are immoral. The law however is really as subjective (though I know murder had varying degrees of intent).
There is also the nature of religious indoctrination of certain moral standards, but I am going to stray away from that area as I don’t really agree with the way religion decides its moral standing.

The second reason is that there is no direct correlation between what is considered moral and what is legal. There are the obvious examples of what is illegal as being immoral, such as murder and stealing, but there are as many examples in reverse (for example, adultery).

The laws of the land in general appear to act in the general good of the society, that which is detrimental to society is illegal while acts which aren’t damaging, are not.
To consider what is illegal as being immoral is equatable to the logic of a pre-schooler. To think that the entirity of our complex and convoluted laws is based off simple moral beliefs is stupid, and your only defense for thinking that, is ignorance.


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