Law and Morality

Published On: 24th September, 2023

Authored By: Mukta Ramesh Kunjeer
Yashwantrao Chavan Law College



 As our society progressed and we became civilized, a need was recognized to have some kind of discipline for a harmonious and smooth working of the society. One way this discipline was induced was through the reigns of legal systems which had their origins woven into the very fabric of the society. But we all know the law was not the same as it is today. The modern legal systems, though owe their existence to their older forms, are very different from what we today recognize as codified rules and regulations. In the earliest form, it was purely based on ethics or morality but then there was religion and other aspects like politics and culture that made their influences later on.

In general terms, we could say law is rules and regulations that humans need to follow to live peacefully with each other. These rules range from being directory to being penal and apply equally to every person. On the other hand, morality though plays the same role it lacks the commanding effect of law. We can say it is a code of conduct that we all follow which is affected by our own ideals and societal pressure. Morality has various bases including but not limited to religious and cultural bases being amongst the most influential.

But in this article, we will be specifically talking about the interplay between law and morality. We will check in detail how law and morality affect each other as to how deeply they are dependent on each other.


I am reminded of the quote posted above the writing board in my law college classroom said by Aristotle i.e. “At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice, he is the worst.” So true it is as we have discussed earlier that law plays the role of bringing peace to society. Now law does not have a specific definition and law cannot be limited to the expanse of a few words. We need it to be flexible to attend to various and ever-changing needs of society after all.

     So here are a few definitions by some renowned jurists to give you the gist of what is the law to help you understand the article ahead –

  • Salmond

“Law may be defined as a body of principles recognized and applied by the state in the administration of justice.

     Salmond’s definition would be the most acceptable definition due to its understanding of the modern legal systems and the nature of law.

  • Austin

“Law is a command backed by a sovereign sanction.”

     Austin’s definition mainly focuses on the authoritative part of law. Where if the law is not followed there will be consequences to be faced.

  • Roscoe Pound

Law, according to Roscoe Pound, is a social institution meant to satisfy social desires. He specifically talked about balancing “conflicting interests”.


According to Sigmund Freud, moral development happens when a person learns to put aside their own needs and can replace them with the values of significant socializing agents, like their parents.

     Morality or moral values, as they are usually known, are a code of conduct set by the people affecting themselves that has no commanding value as such but are followed for social, political, or cultural reasons.


     Law and morality both supervise and direct human conduct in society. They are different in one aspect that is law has an obligatory mandate attached to it while on the other hand, morality applies to only these people to take it upon themselves to follow it.

     Earlier in time morality and law were very much intertwined with each other. It was with time and growth in our understanding of legal systems that the two stand where they do today. Even when they were first separated, they were highly dependent on each other though we are seeing less and less of it with time.

     Many jurists throughout the time have argued whether law should be based on morality or whether the two can be separated from each other. Some of them were completely against the idea of law being dependent on morality but others agreed that these two cannot be separated.


  • Formality: Law is a formal system of rules, while morality is a set of internalized principles. Law is more rigid as compared to morality.
  • Enforcement: Law is enforced through sanctions, while morality is enforced through internal conscience and societal pressure.
  • Scope: Law applies to everyone equally, while morality applies to only those people who themselves decide to follow it.
  • Source: Law is derived from the authority of the state, while morality is derived from social norms, cultural traditions, and personal beliefs.

Despite these differences, law, and morality share some important similarities

  • Both aim to promote social order and protect individual rights.
  • Both are based on notions of fairness, justice, and the common good.
  • Both evolve in response to changing social and moral values.


     The most famous debate on the relationship between law and morality is known as the Hart-Fuller debate by two renowned jurists namely H.L.A Hart and Lon Fuller.

  • L.A. HART –

Hart was known to be part of the positivist school of law whose ideology is apparent in his views on law and morality. He believes that though there is a close relationship between law and morality they are not so much interdependent as some of the other jurists believe. I agree that since our morality is usually in tune with what the current needs and expectations of society are, therefore, they are equally reflected in law which in today’s world is created with the goal of the welfare of the whole of humankind.


Lon Fuller believed strongly but in contradiction to Hart’s view. Fuller believed that Law and morality are exclusively dependent on each other and that law cannot exist without morality. He believed that each law needs to pass the test of morality to be considered a proper law, that in case the law wasn’t mora; it was not enforceable.

     Now that we have understood their separate views, I am sure you too realize that we can bring them together to create a more satisfactory understanding of the relationship between law and morality. I believe that the analogy of the binary star system, where two stars are orbiting each other by the strong gravitational pull of one on the other, is very befitting. Law and morality cannot be separated and they will play this game till the end of time or civilization whichever happens first.


     Law and morality have been an age-old debate between jurists from all around the world.  But in 1884 there was a case that discussed and considered the relationship between law and morality.


Facts –

     Four men were stranded in the middle of the sea on a boat. There was no way of contacting anyone and to top it they were devoid of any food or fresh water. They waited for 7 days with patience but to no avail. So finally, the captain, Thomas Dudley, suggested something quite the unprincipled solution to tackle their current situation. The captain suggested that one of the persons on the boat be sacrificed for the sake of others to be provided as a means of food.

     Though one of the men namely Edward Stephens agreed, Ned Brooks denied being part of this horrendous idea. The last man the cabin boy who had no idea about this whole concoction of the plan was the one who was ultimately killed and sacrificed by no other than the captain Mr. Dudley and Mr. Stephen. The boy was then eaten by all three men to tame their hunger.

     When the men were finally rescued, they were tried for committing the offense of murder with a grave motive.

Issue –

     Whether cannibalism, which is still not accepted in today’s society, be excused for the sole reasons of necessity and helplessness?

Conclusion –

     Though the motive behind the crime was considered, the case was discussed in light of whether the actions committed by the captain and Stephen are acceptable in the face of basic human survival instincts. His actions were morally unacceptable but they were only in tune with human nature. Ultimately the decision was made that killing another human for your convenience is against the law and a clear distinction was made by the court on the topic of law and morality.

  • Donoghue v Stevenson (1932):

This case involved a woman who became ill after drinking a bottle of ginger beer that contained a snail. She sued the manufacturer of the ginger beer, and the court found in her favor. This case established the “duty of care” principle, which holds that people have a legal responsibility to take reasonable steps to avoid harming others. This principle is based on the idea that we have a moral obligation to act in a way that respects the rights and interests of others.


     I have been mulling over the topic myself of how both law and morality affect each other. So, bear with me while I explain below my understanding so far –

  • What is morality?

     To me, morality is basically what we have collectively decided is right or wrong. This very right or wrong keeps changing as our ideals and perspectives change. These changes can be due to our advancement in science or whether it’s cultural or social changes. Morality is never static but dynamic, just like law. It is enforced by the society on the individual belonging to that society.

  • What is law?

     Law is nothing but the code of conduct which is sanctioned by the state. Therefore, the law must be followed since it is proclaimed by a higher authority. It applies to everyone belonging to that area, to which the law applies.

     Since our minds are constantly expanding with new knowledge, our needs and expectations from each other and society in general keep changing too. In the same way with new explorations and research our understanding of the world changes our current perspectives which leads to the creation of a dynamic society. This also changes the way we view our world which creates differences in what we used to believe was right and wrong earlier compared to today.

     The law therefore has to keep up with the current views of the society to fulfill its needs. This creates a link between new laws and the current morality. If anything, it’s due to the changes in our belief of what is right or wrong that we need to enact or remove laws to suit the current needs of society. Law will always be dependent on our current or future moral values. Either law will be used to ensure the change that is required right now or the change that is needed to create the future we desire.

     The few examples I would like to say based on how morality affects the legal system would be the removal of Article 377 from the Indian Constitution which criminalized homosexual relations or on the other hand enactment of a law that protected women by prohibiting the practice of Sati. Both these laws worked in opposite directions and

     Therefore, I believe it is a combination of both sides of the Hart-Fuller debate mentioned above, that we can’t decide otherwise outside the spectrum of morality to create any law since law is here to support and protect the society or some aspect of it thereof which again fits with the goals of morality.

Key Points –

  • Law and morality are two distinct concepts, but they are also interconnected.
  • Law is a system of formal rules and regulations that are enforced by the state.
  • Morality is an informal framework of values, principles, and beliefs that guide individual behavior.
  • While law and morality may share some common goals, they differ in their sources, scope, and enforcement.
  • There are two main philosophical theories on the relationship between law and morality: natural law and legal positivism.
  • The Hart-Fuller debate highlights the ongoing discussion about the extent to which law should be guided by morality.


     I reiterate that law and morality cannot be separated and will always be interconnected in some or the other ways. While the law provides a formal framework for enforcing moral principles, morality guides the creation and interpretation of laws. Both law and morality are essential for a well-functioning society. While they differ in their origins, scope, and enforcement mechanisms, they often overlap and influence each other.



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