Thursday, February 5, 2009

Law and Ethics: Unrelated (Jim Davies)

Jim Davies presents a nice argument that law and ethics are completely unrelated:

Jim DaviesLike all good STR articles, the recent one by Marcel Votluka got me thinking.

It got me thinking about what laws are, and what an ethic is when it's at home. Both purport to be about behavior--harmony between humans--so we expect them to coincide well and are surprised when they don't. However, I take the opposite view, and express surprise when they do. An examination of what they are will help show why.

A law is as we know a government rule, a decree handed down by people poised to punish those who disobey their will. That's its essence. Group G imposes itself on Group P, by means of laws.

Since Group P may be large and sometimes intelligent, Group G takes some trouble to placate members of P by stressing that chaos would result without laws, that laws are closely aligned with good ethics, and that G folk are in any case chosen by P folk in a fair manner, so there's no question of a dictator just imposing his whim. In addition, it's a frequent trick to invent a deity, whose word is not to be questioned, and establish a close link to it or him so that the lawmakers are seen as pals of the Almighty; hence the proximity of the National Cathedral to the White House, Parliament to Westminster Abbey, and all the multiplicity of appeals at the end of political speeches for God to Bless America, etc., the Reverend Wright excepted. Hence too those odious words from the other party, endorsing the first: "the powers that be are ordained of God" (Romans 13:1.) Here, we're reflecting on the second of those claims--that laws and ethics go together; but all four of them are dead wrong and, in fact, the imposition of laws actually creates chaos, rather than preventing it. But that second claim is bolstered by the fact that rape is ethically terrible and look!--there are laws against rape; theft is morally wicked and see!--there are laws against theft, etc.

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