News When, if ever, should the government legislate morality?

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When should the government legislate morality?


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selfAdjoint said:
This simple analysis overlooks that making something illegal makes it attractive to certain kinds of people. Left alone, pornography appeals to teenage boys heavily and lightly to people of all ages who might visit a porn site when in a certain mood, but are not regular customers. But make it hard to get and the risk taking section of the population is attracted.

If your economic argument worked, the US drug problem would long ago have withered up and blown away.
I'm not saying that demand for it would totally dissapear, but I think it's safe to say that less people use drugs than would if you weren't punished for posessing/buying them...
 

Moonbear

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I had to vote with the "for reasons not listed here" option, though would have preferred a choice that really said something along the lines of morality should not be a consideration.

For example, let's just take choice 1, regarding killing of another. While a quick reading of that statement led me to first think that was reasonable, we need laws against murder. However, upon thinking about it more, there are a lot of ways one person can cause the death of another person, and it doesn't always involve an immoral act. For example, someone who runs over a pedestrian while not paying attention to their driving because they are reaching down to find the pack of cigarettes they just dropped on the floor of the car didn't do anything immoral, but still would be charged with vehicular homicide due to their recklessness contributing to the death of another person.

On the other end of the spectrum, take the currently highly publicized case of Terri Schiavo. Her husband believes he is taking the moral high ground to have her feeding tube removed and end what he perceives as suffering, and granting her what she would wish for. Her parents think they are taking the moral high ground by continuing to keep her feeding tube in place and keeping her alive. Both undoubtedly must think the other side is immoral. So, how could we legislate based on morality when there is so much disagreement on what is moral? This particular case even highlights the ambiguity in defining what is killing. Her parents are of the opinion that removing her feeding tube is killing her, while her husband views it as allowing her to die.

If legislators come along and decide they're going to settle it once and for all and make a law coming down on one side or the other, then what happens to the individual rights and wishes of the person who can no longer speak for themself if they have expressed previously that their own wishes are opposite that of the legislators?

Yet another issue that comes to mind regardng legislation of morality is that it doesn't prevent people from acting immorally, or according to different views of morality, all it does is provide a punishment after the fact. I have a hard time imagining that someone woke up in the morning seriously contemplating being an axe murderer and decided against it because they might have to spend life in prison or get the death penalty.
 

kyleb

Gokul43201 said:
How about the acquiring/possession of banned substances/objects; driving vehicles without properly functioning brakes; driving under the influence; purchasing a firearm without a license (and others such) ?

Isn't it good that there are laws which are pro-active, and not just reactive ?
Not in my opinion; such laws only serve to obscure what is important, respect for the rights of our fellow humans. On the other hand, stronger punishment for those that do victimize others, be it intentional or accidental, is something I am all for; none of this 4 years for getting drunk and running someone over stupidity like we see with our present system.
 
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Moonbear said:
I had to vote with the "for reasons not listed here" option, though would have preferred a choice that really said something along the lines of morality should not be a consideration.

For example, let's just take choice 1, regarding killing of another. While a quick reading of that statement led me to first think that was reasonable, we need laws against murder. However, upon thinking about it more, there are a lot of ways one person can cause the death of another person, and it doesn't always involve an immoral act. For example, someone who runs over a pedestrian while not paying attention to their driving because they are reaching down to find the pack of cigarettes they just dropped on the floor of the car didn't do anything immoral, but still would be charged with vehicular homicide due to their recklessness contributing to the death of another person.
I would argue that in the case you described, where someone kept on driving while not looking at the road, that the driver actually did act immorally (if we can agree that killing people randomly is immoral). Due to the fact that when you're not paying attention when driving that you're very likely to hit something or someone, I'd say that speeding along in a 2 ton piece of metal without looking where you're going is immoral, because you could very easily injure or kill someone.

Moonbear said:
On the other end of the spectrum, take the currently highly publicized case of Terri Schiavo. Her husband believes he is taking the moral high ground to have her feeding tube removed and end what he perceives as suffering, and granting her what she would wish for. Her parents think they are taking the moral high ground by continuing to keep her feeding tube in place and keeping her alive. Both undoubtedly must think the other side is immoral. So, how could we legislate based on morality when there is so much disagreement on what is moral? This particular case even highlights the ambiguity in defining what is killing. Her parents are of the opinion that removing her feeding tube is killing her, while her husband views it as allowing her to die.

If legislators come along and decide they're going to settle it once and for all and make a law coming down on one side or the other, then what happens to the individual rights and wishes of the person who can no longer speak for themself if they have expressed previously that their own wishes are opposite that of the legislators?
Good points. I believe deciding to die if you have a terminal illness should be allowed, and I'm not exactly sure where I stand on other things like abortion, so it seems that my vote to across the board legislate that you shouldn't do anything which could kill people wasn't thought out well enough.
Moonbear said:
Yet another issue that comes to mind regardng legislation of morality is that it doesn't prevent people from acting immorally, or according to different views of morality, all it does is provide a punishment after the fact. I have a hard time imagining that someone woke up in the morning seriously contemplating being an axe murderer and decided against it because they might have to spend life in prison or get the death penalty.
Perhaps if someone wanted to be an axe murderer, they wouldn't be necessarily stopped from killing people if it were illegal, but it'd certainly deter them. If it simply wasn't illegal to kill people, that psychopath could just go into a crowded public place, start hacking people up, finish off wherever he was, and move right on to the next crowded public place. However, assuming the person isn't completely insane, and it's illegal to randomly kill people, they'll know that if they just start hacking up people randomly in public, that the police will soon be there to arrest or kill them. Maybe this wouldn't stop them from killing people, but just like anything, it would be harder to do if it's illegal, and they'd probabally kill fewer people before they're caught, since they'd have to be covert and sneaky about it, and the police would be trying to catch whoever's been kidnapping and killing random people. Without it being illegal, what would stop this axe murderer from killing anyone he pleased, besides the random instance that someone happens to have a gun or other weapon?

And what if killing wasn't illegal, and the only deterrence from doing it (if you wanted to do it) was that someone you're trying to kill might have a weapon of their own and kill you before you killed them? The axe murderer would just select a vulnerable group of people who likely wouldn't have weapons on them to kill, like hippies or people at a beach.
 
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Moonbear

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wasteofo2 said:
I would argue that in the case you described, where someone kept on driving while not looking at the road, that the driver actually did act immorally (if we can agree that killing people randomly is immoral). Due to the fact that when you're not paying attention when driving that you're very likely to hit something or someone, I'd say that speeding along in a 2 ton piece of metal without looking where you're going is immoral, because you could very easily injure or kill someone.
I think that's where the trouble lies. You seem to be judging the morality by the outcome (I could be wrong on this; I'm basing this on your statement here), whereas I would determine it according to intent. In other words, would the act of taking your eyes off the road for a moment be immoral if you didn't hit anyone or anything? If it is, then we can probably brand everyone with a driver's license for more than a year as immoral.


Good points. I believe deciding to die if you have a terminal illness should be allowed, and I'm not exactly sure where I stand on other things like abortion, so it seems that my vote to across the board legislate that you shouldn't do anything which could kill people wasn't thought out well enough.
I think that's the most important issue when it comes to legislation of morality. Morality isn't the same for everyone across the board. While there are situations where most people will agree, such as it's wrong to go kill someone for no reason, and even those who commit murder under those circumstances aren't arguing it was the moral thing to do, there are many other situations where groups of people will view completely opposite actions as the moral choice.

If it simply wasn't illegal to kill people, that psychopath could just go into a crowded public place, start hacking people up, finish off wherever he was, and move right on to the next crowded public place.
In this respect, I agree, the laws serve the purpose of preventing the same person from repeating the offense once they've demonstrated they lack the ability to abide by those laws.

However, assuming the person isn't completely insane, and it's illegal to randomly kill people, they'll know that if they just start hacking up people randomly in public, that the police will soon be there to arrest or kill them.
I honestly believe someone capable of such a crime must be somewhat insane, and those who would be deterred by a law would be deterred for other reasons as well. Regardless, whether laws making something illegal serve as a deterrant wasn't really my main point, but that it doesn't make someone who is immoral moral. But, I think our disagreement on this point is the same as the disagreement on the first point, that I see morality as something internal, related to intent. If someone stops short of killing someone because they don't want to be sent to prison (a selfish motive), it doesn't mean we've eliminated what I consider the immoral thinking that going out with an axe and murdering random people is itself okay.

I guess, if anything, our disagreement here illustrates further the challenge of legislation based on morality. We don't even seem to define morality the same way when I'm quite certain we do both agree that going out and murdering random people with an axe is wrong and keeping it illegal is right.
 
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Moonbear said:
I think that's where the trouble lies. You seem to be judging the morality by the outcome (I could be wrong on this; I'm basing this on your statement here), whereas I would determine it according to intent. In other words, would the act of taking your eyes off the road for a moment be immoral if you didn't hit anyone or anything? If it is, then we can probably brand everyone with a driver's license for more than a year as immoral.
I don't think you can really judge morality by any universal criteria, such as outcome or intent, however, with the example of someone not looking while they're driving, I don't think outcome is the proper way to judge morality, nor do I think that intent is.

With the example of driving while looking for your cigarettes and not at the road the action of actually driving and looking for your cigarettes - the driver could easily pull over, or deal without his cigarettes for a few minutes, he doesn't need to drive around blind. He probabally doesn't have the intent to kill anyone, but in ignoring the fact that he could, he's acting immorally by totally disregarding the safety of everyone around him. So here, I think the act itself is immoral, even if it has no ill consequences or intent.

About labelling everyone immorale, I'd say that no one in the world is perfect, everyone acts immorally. That's part of what this thread is about, to discuss when is an immoral action worthy of legal punishment, and when is an immoral action a personal choice and an expression of liberty.
Moonbear said:
I think that's the most important issue when it comes to legislation of morality. Morality isn't the same for everyone across the board. While there are situations where most people will agree, such as it's wrong to go kill someone for no reason, and even those who commit murder under those circumstances aren't arguing it was the moral thing to do, there are many other situations where groups of people will view completely opposite actions as the moral choice.
That's another one of the things I was trying to get at with this thread.


Moonbear said:
I honestly believe someone capable of such a crime must be somewhat insane, and those who would be deterred by a law would be deterred for other reasons as well. Regardless, whether laws making something illegal serve as a deterrant wasn't really my main point, but that it doesn't make someone who is immoral moral. But, I think our disagreement on this point is the same as the disagreement on the first point, that I see morality as something internal, related to intent. If someone stops short of killing someone because they don't want to be sent to prison (a selfish motive), it doesn't mean we've eliminated what I consider the immoral thinking that going out with an axe and murdering random people is itself okay.
I agree with you that someone who chooses not to kill people only because they don't want to go to jail isn't a moral person. However, stopping people from murdering others, even if they only stop out of self-interest, would still be a moral thing to do, if you value the lives of individuals. I never claimed you'd make would-be murderers into saints by making murder illegal, but you certainly do protect people's lives, which is a highly moral thing to do (in my judgement).


Moonbear said:
I guess, if anything, our disagreement here illustrates further the challenge of legislation based on morality. We don't even seem to define morality the same way when I'm quite certain we do both agree that going out and murdering random people with an axe is wrong and keeping it illegal is right.
I don't think many people have the exact same concept of morality. I believe we can agree that someones morals are their ideas about what is wrong and what is right, but I doubt that you and I (or many people in the world) can agree on exactly what is wrong and what is right.
 

SOS2008

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wasteofo2 said:
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.
My Vote: What does not infringe upon another's rights should not be legislated. There should be no law for or against gay marriage, abortion, etc.--these are private matters of individual choice (i.e., adult consent, T.V. filters/blocks, etc.) and/or to be left to the private sector to determine (e.g., hospital policy, sexual harassment in the workplace, etc.). Nor should tax dollars or government coercion be used to promote or discourage private matters of individual choice, particularly in keeping with separation of church and state, such as prayer in school, etc., maintaining freedom of religion and freedom from religion.
 

russ_watters

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wasteofo2 said:
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!
Surprised it wasn't me? :wink:
:biggrin:
fourier_jr said:
i'm pretty sure it was john stuart mill, a classical liberal, who said that(oh no!)
Mill's ideas were based largely on Locke's (though I'm having trouble finding a source for that specific idea...). Anyway, though I'm not sure the term existed when Locke was alive, Locke was a liberal too. And I'm a big fan. :bugeye:
wasteofo2 said:
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.
Indeed, classical liberalism (Wikipedia: Liberalism) was a very, very good thing. I'm not sure it bears much relation to what modern liberals belive though - which is why I'm not a modern liberal.
Moonbear said:
For example, let's just take choice 1, regarding killing of another. While a quick reading of that statement led me to first think that was reasonable, we need laws against murder. However, upon thinking about it more, there are a lot of ways one person can cause the death of another person, and it doesn't always involve an immoral act. For example, someone who runs over a pedestrian while not paying attention to their driving because they are reaching down to find the pack of cigarettes they just dropped on the floor of the car didn't do anything immoral, but still would be charged with vehicular homicide due to their recklessness contributing to the death of another person.
Well legally, there are different classes of murder and a person who kills someone while comitting a robbery, for example is not punished the same as a person who kills another through negligence (as in your vehicular homicide example). I think that fits just fine with your argument.

Morality isn't necessarily simple. I know some people tend to take a simplistic view of it (some people have suggested I do) and things like the Ten Commandments look simple enough, but in practice, things are much more complicated than simply "Thou shalt not murder" - and rightly so.
On the other end of the spectrum, take the currently highly publicized case of Terri Schiavo. Her husband believes he is taking the moral high ground to have her feeding tube removed and end what he perceives as suffering, and granting her what she would wish for. Her parents think they are taking the moral high ground by continuing to keep her feeding tube in place and keeping her alive. Both undoubtedly must think the other side is immoral. So, how could we legislate based on morality when there is so much disagreement on what is moral?
This is an extremely difficult case and I think a good example. It would be simple (say, in the case of abortion) to just let individuals make the choice, but here you can't. The government must make the decision which side is "right" (legally). So, if not morality, what should the government base its decision on? Remember that law isn't just a practical thing: there isn't just "the letter of the law," there is also "the spirit of the law." To me, "the spirit of the law" is the morality.
If legislators come along and decide they're going to settle it once and for all and make a law coming down on one side or the other, then what happens to the individual rights and wishes of the person who can no longer speak for themself if they have expressed previously that their own wishes are opposite that of the legislators?
Well, that's not the case here (there is some disagreement over what the woman's wishes were), but how does the government act when someone can speak for themself? No diferently at all: it still decides what you can and can't do in most cases. This case may actually be bigger than you think: it could set a precedent. Either way the government rules, that decision could easily be extended to cases where the person is able to make the decision for themself. Up to now, the government has been able to avoid making that decision.
Yet another issue that comes to mind regardng legislation of morality is that it doesn't prevent people from acting immorally, or according to different views of morality, all it does is provide a punishment after the fact. I have a hard time imagining that someone woke up in the morning seriously contemplating being an axe murderer and decided against it because they might have to spend life in prison or get the death penalty.
Obviously, governmental moral decisions are based on what is practical. But I don't see the problem with that. If it does or doesn't provide a deterrent, you still need to punish (and remove from the streets) that axe murderer. In fact, it has to be that way. Punishment is not allowed to be a deterrent: it is immoral to punish one person for the possible future crime of another. That's a difficult practical/moral issue for the government.

As for if punishment or morality is what guides our actions, you already know the answer to that: its both and different people lean in different directions. You were, after all, a child at some point in your life...
Morality isn't the same for everyone across the board. While there are situations where most people will agree, such as it's wrong to go kill someone for no reason, and even those who commit murder under those circumstances aren't arguing it was the moral thing to do, there are many other situations where groups of people will view completely opposite actions as the moral choice.
But are those disagreements ever major (functionally)? Ie, do two rational and reasonable people ever disagree on simple murder or is it only when you complicate the situation by making the victim not fully formed and indepent of another (abortion)? I think the answer to that question says a lot about whether morality can be viewed scientifically (and absolutely).
I honestly believe someone capable of such a crime must be somewhat insane, and those who would be deterred by a law would be deterred for other reasons as well. Regardless, whether laws making something illegal serve as a deterrant wasn't really my main point, but that it doesn't make someone who is immoral moral.
From the government's perspective, it is enough that they make someone act morally or, failing that, punish them for not acting morally. This is key: the government's primary responsibility when it comes to morality is preventing you from hurting me.
But, I think our disagreement on this point is the same as the disagreement on the first point, that I see morality as something internal, related to intent. If someone stops short of killing someone because they don't want to be sent to prison (a selfish motive), it doesn't mean we've eliminated what I consider the immoral thinking that going out with an axe and murdering random people is itself okay.
I think it's both and the government is responsible primarily for the external. The government's main interest in the internal part is when they dole out punishment. In the US, our feedom (perhaps paridoxically, but it seems to more or less work) allows for immoral thoughts, just not immoral actions. So the phrase "legislating morality" shouldn't be taken to mean forcing people to think morally, just to act morally. That said, the main way to get people to think morally is through education and I think the government should make a serious effort at moral education.
wasteofo2 said:
The axe murderer would just select a vulnerable group of people who likely wouldn't have weapons on them to kill, like hippies or people at a beach.
Hmm... I like the way you think!... :biggrin:

Good thread, wasteofo2.
 
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Moonbear

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russ_watters said:
This is an extremely difficult case and I think a good example. It would be simple (say, in the case of abortion) to just let individuals make the choice, but here you can't. The government must make the decision which side is "right" (legally). So, if not morality, what should the government base its decision on? Remember that law isn't just a practical thing: there isn't just "the letter of the law," there is also "the spirit of the law." To me, "the spirit of the law" is the morality.
This is why I brought up that example. It's incredibly complicated, and I believe there are valid moral arguments for both sides. It illustrates how much of our laws are based on morality. Now what happens when morality can't provide the answer, when there are good, albeit different, reasons why either decision would be morally acceptable. This is far more challenging than situations in which one party views a particular choice as the only moral choice and the other party views it as more morally neutral (it's not your moral obligation to do as they do, but it's not immoral to do it either), or views offering choice as the moral route.

Well, that's not the case here (there is some disagreement over what the woman's wishes were), but how does the government act when someone can speak for themself? No diferently at all: it still decides what you can and can't do in most cases. This case may actually be bigger than you think: it could set a precedent. Either way the government rules, that decision could easily be extended to cases where the person is able to make the decision for themself. Up to now, the government has been able to avoid making that decision.
I don't want to side-track this thread by getting into the details of this specific case, because this thread is already addresses complicated enough issues. So, I just want to mention quickly that I do agree the precedent this case will set is going to have huge implications for similar future decisions. The only way I can see the courts stepping out of this without risking a dangerous precedent is to not address the moral issue of whether the feeding tube should be removed, but to address the legal issue of who is legally responsible for making the decision on the behalf of someone incapacitated. I think that is the issue going to the courts at this point; Terri Schiavo's parents are attempting to have her husband deemed an incompetent guardian now that he has obtained permission to have the feeding tube removed. The important precedent is don't just tell someone what your wishes are, put it in writing in front of witnesses.

An additional thought here: is the decision of who has the legal responsibility to make decisions on behalf of an incapacitated person also an issue of morality? I know my opinions are guided by my own relationships to know who I would be more likely to trust with decisions about me if I couldn't make them for myself. But, how does someone prove an incapacitated person was more likely to confide in them than in someone else what their wishes would be? Or that they know the person well enough to make decisions when such situations were never discussed?
 
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SOS2008 said:
My Vote: What does not infringe upon another's rights should not be legislated. There should be no law for or against gay marriage... Nor should tax dollars or government coercion be used to promote or discourage private matters of individual choice, particularly in keeping with separation of church and state, such as prayer in school, etc., maintaining freedom of religion and freedom from religion.
The thing is, with heterosexual marriage, the government provides all sorts of tax breaks and whatnot. Marriage isn't just a spiritual thing in America, it's a legal contract which the government acknowledges and treats people who've agreed to that contract differently than others. That being said, do you believe that the government should treat gay and heterosexual marriages in the same manner as far as not saying who can and can't be married, and allowing the same financial aid and that sort of thing to all married couples, straight or gay?
 

SOS2008

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wasteofo2 said:
The thing is, with heterosexual marriage, the government provides all sorts of tax breaks and whatnot. Marriage isn't just a spiritual thing in America, it's a legal contract which the government acknowledges and treats people who've agreed to that contract differently than others. That being said, do you believe that the government should treat gay and heterosexual marriages in the same manner as far as not saying who can and can't be married, and allowing the same financial aid and that sort of thing to all married couples, straight or gay?
Very good point, and thought-provoking. Perhaps marriage should neither be legal or illegal for anyone, but just commitment (after all, the "red" states have higher divorce rates, as if having a piece of paper makes a difference from this perspective). I don't think there are any significant government benefits left, such as tax breaks, and most issues can be handled via other legal instruments (e.g., wills). The big issues for gays with their loved ones in intensive care with AIDS have been that of health care benefits and visiting restrictions per hospital regulations. Though based on legal recognition, these are private sector policies really, which I feel should be changed. Increasingly heterosexuals are opting to live together rather than getting married, and face the same things, though true--heteros at least have the choice. Some of these matters apply to other scenarios as well, such as legal guardians, etc. So perhaps these things should be viewed as a larger social issue, and not just a gay issue.

I really prefer Big Brother to stay out of our private lives as much as possible--also when you mess with the rights of others, you open the door for your own rights to be tampered with in some way. This ultimately is my concern. (I don't guess we'll solve the world's problem in one day, huh?)
 

evthis

by definition

wasteofo2 said:
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.
Morality cannot be legislated however the people of a nation can be influenced through law generated threats and governmental positive reward reinforcement to behave in ways which mimic beings possessing morality.
 

loseyourname

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russ_watters said:
Mill's ideas were based largely on Locke's (though I'm having trouble finding a source for that specific idea...).
I'm pretty sure that Mill's libertarian ethics were an elaboration of Jeremy Bentham's.
 

selfAdjoint

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Would anyone care to conjecture that Mill may have been original?
 

russ_watters

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selfAdjoint said:
Would anyone care to conjecture that Mill may have been original?
Is anyone really original?
 

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