Social Cohesion and the Legal Enforcement of Morals

Robert P. George

in Making Men Moral

Published in print April 1995 | ISBN: 9780198260240
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191682063 | DOI:

Series: Clarendon Paperbacks

Social Cohesion and the Legal Enforcement of Morals

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This chapter discusses the controversial 1957 report by the Committee on Homosexual Offences led by Sir John Wolfenden that was submitted to the British Parliament. The report recommended to Parliament that homosexual behaviour between consenting adults in private should no longer be a criminal offence for the reason that such immorality does not cause harm to others. The recommendation was quickly opposed by Judge Patrick Devlin. He dismissed the view adopted by the Committee of distinguishing between private and public immorality as a standard between what is criminal and what is legal. According to Judge Devlin, the real standard should be what acts promote social cohesion and what leads to disintegration. It is for this reason that immoral acts should be outlawed. H.L.A. Hart criticized the view of Judge Devlin, which he labelled as the ‘disintegration thesis’. According to Hart, legally tolerating acts thought to be immoral does not necessarily lead to social disintegration. Although legal tolerance can bring change to the shared values of the society, such change can even be good for the society as a whole.

Keywords: Judge Patrick Devlin; Hart; Sir John Wolfenden; homosexuality; immorality; social cohesion; disintegration thesis

Chapter.  14018 words. 

Subjects: Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law

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