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When, if ever, should the government legislate morality?

  1. When perpetration of an "immoral" act leads directly to the killing of another

  2. When perpetration of an "immoral" act leads directly to the physical harm of another

  3. When perpetration of an "immoral" act leads directly to the financial harm of another

  4. When perpetration of an "immoral" act infringes upon the liberties of another

  5. When perpetration of an "immoral" act adversely affects the health of the populace

  6. When perpetration of an "immoral" act will offend the individual whom it is directed towards

  7. When perpetration of an "immoral" act offends a vast majority of the population

  8. For reasons not listed here

Multiple votes are allowed.
  1. Feb 25, 2005 #1
    Lots of different groups claim in lots of different instances that they believe that the government shouldn't legislate morality, but I don't think that anyone truly believes this in full. For instance, it is a moral stance that you should not murder people, steal from people, enslave people etc. and I don't believe anyone has a problem with the government legislating morality in this sense. So, where is the line drawn, or should the government not legislate morality at all, and allow things like murder, rape, theft, slavery etc.?

    In this poll, you can select multiple options, so check all the instances in which you feel it is appropriate for the government to legislate morality.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 25, 2005 #2


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    I don't think a prohibition against murder (always carefully circumscribed so as to rule out policemen and soldiers and so on) is legislating morality. Society has needs, and prevention of random killing is one of those needs.
  4. Feb 25, 2005 #3
    I believe that in our founding documents, that it was stated that all men were born with the inalienable rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. Certainly preventing random killing would help Society to function, but then again, there are lots of things the government could do to help Society to function more smoothely - but the government doesn't do all these things.

    I don't think you'll find many people (in government or otherwise) who will tell you that murder should be illegal for the functioning of society; I'd be willing to bet that almost 100% would say because murder is simply wrong - it infringes upon your inalienable right to life.
  5. Feb 26, 2005 #4
    Seems like a trick question to me. I mean, I could care less wether an act is considered "immoral" or not; but rather whether an act infringes on the rights of another person.
  6. Feb 26, 2005 #5
    what does everyone think of the idea that people should be free to do whatever they want except cause harm to another person? (in which case i guess you would need the stae or whoever to come in & stop it)
  7. Feb 26, 2005 #6


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    Isn't that the entire point? Ie:
    That's pretty much what kyleb said and its a paraphrase of Locke. Whether you say "infringing on the rights" or "harm" its the same thing, but "harm" sounds much more like a moral issue. Frankly, I consider rights, in general, to be a moral issue.

    Anyway, the problem isn't so much figuring out if you should legislate morality, its defining exactly what "harm" is(which is essentially what the OP is asking). Is merely being offended, "harm"? (obviously, I voted no...)
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2005
  8. Feb 26, 2005 #7
    If by "harm", you mean physically damage, I wouldn't think that's a great method of governance. In that case, theft and property damage would be totally legal, you could own slaves (so long as you didn't physically harm them), and many other things that would infringe upon people's rights would be totally legal. In our constitution, many rights are set out that all people are garunteed, and it goes far beyond the right to be free from injury.

    I pretty much agree wholeheartedly with what russ_watters said about rights being issues of morality (hey, we even voted the same way) - ain't that something.
  9. Feb 26, 2005 #8
    Yeah, I realized that defining "harm" would important to this discussion, which is why I tried to think of as many different areas in which the government has/might legislate morality as possible.

    So russ, you said that even if an immoral act offended individuals or large groups of people, that the government had no right to tell people that they shouldn't do it, correct? In that case, do you think that government broadcast decency standards and things like that should be revoked?
  10. Feb 26, 2005 #9


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    Seems to me waste that you think of government as this infinitely adjustible perfect computer, which must be internally consistent above all things. Whereas I think of government as a human kludge, a system far from equilibrium and with all kinds of accidental, deceptive, basins of attraction. The gov contradicts itself? Very well, it contradicts itself! It is large, it contains multitudes.
  11. Feb 26, 2005 #10
    I think it should be that, but I have no illusions that it actually is.

    I'd have to agree, but what does that have to do with when it's proper for the government to legislate morality?
  12. Feb 26, 2005 #11
    FOr example the government legislates morality with child porn. child porn is sick and should be banned.
  13. Feb 26, 2005 #12
    Child Porn is banned, but because of the harm to the child, not because of any moral issues. Least in Canada that's how it is.
  14. Feb 26, 2005 #13
    That's part of a moral issue, nearly everything relates back to morals. Morals are simply ideas about what is right and what is wrong. People believe hurting children is wrong, and they believe that child porn hurts the children involved, so it's outlawed. Besides the children involved, most people will believe looking at child porn is morally wrong as well. Almost everything the government does can be linked back to basic issues of what is right and wrong.

    But who knows, maybe in Canada they don't have right and wrong...
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2005
  15. Feb 26, 2005 #14
    Child porn is a good example to elabrate on my previous post; I belive that looking at child pron is moraly wrong, but it should not be outright illegal as it doesn't nesscarly infringe on the rights of others. On the other hand production of child porn, as well as the sale and purchase of such smut should be illgal as it is a form of explotation of children.
  16. Feb 26, 2005 #15
    So since you believe the act of producing child porn is wrong and harmful to those involved, why don't you think soliciting it should be illegal as well?
  17. Feb 26, 2005 #16


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    Social mores probably have developed over time in part to avoid anarchy in society, from a time of small tribes up to current governments, and I believe most everyone would agree this is a good thing to have. With regard to the above quote, it is always an ongoing balance between the majority rule (the majority may be wrong, but the majority is always right) versus protection of individual rights. So I feel it comes down to infringing on another's rights--not just harm--such as my right to express my view (even if I were part of the KKK), and offending someone else with my belief is not harm (e.g., not to be confused with sexual harassment in the private sector). As for moral issues, and the example of child porn, it is wrong if for no other reason than lack of mutual consent. Beyond that, I don't think we really want the government meddling in our private lives.

    This is a relevant topic though, with debates regarding broadcast standards, beliefs that abortion is murder, and my favorite--separation of church and state (should the government impose prayer in school, classes on creation vs evolution, etc., or should these things be the responsibility of parents to choose and to teach at home) and back to infringement on another's rights--freedom from religion as well as freedom of religion.
  18. Feb 26, 2005 #17
    SOS, what I'm saying is, that everything you're talking about relates to principals of right and wrong. Believing that certain laws should be in place in order to maintain societal stability is a moral belief as well, becuase you believe it's right to have a stable society. Others may believe that it's right to have an unstable society, which would lead to enhanced competition between people in many different aspects of life, and thus you'd get a sort of accelerated darwinism in who is sucessful and who survives, making sure the weak are weeded out and the strong survive. Some may believe that stability is antithetical to process, and thus stability is wrong if you're trying to progress as a society.

    It's all about right and wrong.

    As a corollary to your last paragraph, another issue encompassed in "legislating morality" is gay marriage. It's interesting that so far, no one has voted that the government should legislate morality if it offends a vast majority of the population, however, this is exactly the case in gay marriage. Gay marriage doesn't kill anyone, harm anyone, steal from anyone, adversely affect society's health, and isn't done with the purpose of offending people, so it seems that the concensus of this board is that Gay marriage should be allowed, since all it does is offend the values of a vast majority of the population.

    However, with the rights of a minority being put up to popular vote, the majority in our country has demonstrated that it doesn't respect the rights of a minority, and has infringed upon their rights.

    Interestingly, the circumstance under which the government should legislate morality which recieved the most votes was when "perpetration of an "immoral" act infringes upon the liberties of another".

    So seemingly, by concensus of this board, the government should actually prohibit the public from voting to take away the rights of a minority (such as outlawing gay marraige).

    Now let's see how many people's principals hold up when applied to reality.
  19. Feb 26, 2005 #18
    And we have our first winner; jcsd, who believes that Government should legislate morality in all of the given situations, plus other ones which were not given.

    jcsd, you've won the coveted PF Authoritarian Of The Year Award, come on down!
  20. Feb 26, 2005 #19
    i'm pretty sure it was john stuart mill, a classical liberal, who said that(oh no!) :rofl:
  21. Feb 26, 2005 #20
    Locke himself, and all the rest of the enlightenment thinkers, and the vast majority of America's Founding Fathers, were liberal. It wasn't such a naughty word back when America was being founded.
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