July 2012 articles archive:

Law and morals

Some of you may find it useful to think about these questions as they seem to be bothering politicians at the moment and that can cause problems in itself.

In no time at all we will be back at School or College studying law. Some of you may be studying the subject for the first time. Where do we start? What is law and how do we define it? What is the difference between law and morals or are they the same? Some of you may find it useful to think about these questions as they seem to be bothering politicians at the moment and that can cause problems in itself.


Law is often described as a set of rules. The rules are binding upon the community or society which adopts them. Adoption is not enough and a characteristic is that they are imposed in some way and carry appropriate sanctions if they are not observed. Morals are sometimes the same as the law but not always. For example, it has been widely accepted by many communities  that such things as theft and murder are wrong morally, it also happens that many communities have adopted laws prohibiting such behaviour as well.


There is no single definition of morals so you may find it helpful to consider different views on this point, but Elliot and Quinn take the view that morals are values and beliefs held by society or sections of them and that these morals tell those who share them what is right and what is wrong.


A discussion or debate of the definitions of law and morals can be extremely enlightening as can the reasons and differences between morals and the law and how such inconsistencies may be expected.


David Cameron has entered the affray recently by commenting upon the personal finances of the comedian Jimmy Carr in the context of the morality of alleged tax evasion schemes which result in apparently affecting the tax burden on individuals. David Cameron is on record as saying that he thinks such schemes are 'morally wrong' and added that "The Government is acting by looking at a general anti avoidance law but we do need to make progress on this.”


More recently David Gauke, a Treasury minister, has suggested that it is immoral to pay tradesmen cash-in-hand.  There is also the issue of tax evasion and the important distinction with tax avoidance. For example, not declaring earnings you know about and which are liable for tax amounts to tax evasion and is illegal.  Declaring those earnings but using legal means to ensure you pay the lowest tax possible on them is tax avoidance and perfectly legal.  But is it 'morally wrong'?


Your tutor will no doubt refer you to appropriate reading but as a start and thanks to David Thomas of the of the Telegraph you may like to consider how you would fair if you completed their Quiz: how immoral are you?



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