Law and Morality

Henry Sidgwick

in Essays on Ethics and Method

Published in print December 2000 | ISBN: 9780198250234
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191598432 | DOI:

Series: British Moral Philosophers

 Law and Morality

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In this chapter, first published in The Elements of Politics, Sidgwick outlines his conception of positive morality, that is, the commonsense morality generally accepted within a society. He then examines the relation between positive morality and positive law because the moral opinions and sentiments prevalent in a society largely determine how the government ought to act. One difference between legal rules and moral rules, highlighted by Bentham and Austin, is that, whereas the government either directly or indirectly represses a violation of the former, only general disapprobation and social conscience punish a violation of the latter. A second difference, notes Sidgwick, lies in the comparative definiteness and systematic coherence of the two types of rules. Since no judicial process resolves doubts about moral rules, the law has greater consistency and definiteness than positive morality.

Keywords: Austin; Bentham; coherence; commonsense; judicial process; legal rule; moral rule; positive law; positive morality; Sidgwick; violation

Chapter.  6313 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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