What is the relationship between ethics and the law? Can an action be unethical but not illegal?

Ethics and law are closely connected; moreover, we can talk about the deep interpenetration of law and ethics: they are mutually conditioning, mutually supportive and complementary of each other in the regulating social relations. The objective causality of such interaction is determined by the fact that legal laws are factually embodying the principles of humanism, justice, human equality, or, in other words, the laws of a legal state embody the highest moral demands of the contemporary society.

Exploring the question of the relationship between the law and ethics, most lawyers mark that one way or another, everything regulated by the law is regulated morally, i.e. is subject to moral evaluation. With the help of the law, the state reaches the establishment of the progressive moral norms, which, in turn, contribute to strengthening the moral authority of the law perceived as a social value of the whole society (Alston, 2007; Hamilton & Gerlach, 2010). Compliance with the norms of law is included into the content of the moral duty of the citizens. With the development of moral and legal consciousness, the authority of the norms of law is increasing, and both moral and legal norms get improved.

Still, ethics and law also share important differences. In particular, the law is regulating only the socially significant behavior of people, without invading privacy. Moreover, it is intended to create guarantees against such invasion, while ethics also regulates personal life and interpersonal relations like friendship, love, mutual aid, etc. (Muraskin & Muraskin, 2000). Thus, in some cases, ethics and law get separated, and an action can be simultaneously unethical, but totally legal. For example, the law permits to expel the poor from the rented apartment without paying the money in time, as the law allows claiming the implementation of agreements, admitting a certain extent of self-interest. By contrast, in any circumstances, morality requires compassion for any fellowman.

In general, nowadays morality is a necessary tool for any society, and its importance is steadily increasing, while, the interaction of legal and moral factors in the society and their mutual support should also continually increase for the sake of society’s progress.

Alston, P., Goodman, R., & Steiner, H. J. (2007). International Human Rights in Context: Law, Politics, Morals. Oxford University Press.
Hamilton, S.N., & Gerlach, N. (2010). ”˜It Won’t Always Be Wrong’: Morality and Monsters in Legal Rational Authority. Law, Culture and the Humanities, 6 (3), pp. 394-419.
Muraskin, R., & Muraskin, M. (2000). Morality and the Law. Prentice Hall.

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