Moral  life is a journey to find happiness for our souls. Before being journey to become good, moral life is a journey to find happiness and peace. Moral life ends when perfect satisfaction finally comes to our desires, when all our searching has come to an end because we finally possess the good in which we are completed.

In so far as man has an objective final end, he is under obligation to strive after it. As he strives towards that end, an order to be followed will manifest itself to him, namely, the moral order. The ontological moral order, considered epistemologically and psychologically, is the moral law.


The phrase natural law has been used over the centuries to designate a remarkably persistent doctrine concerning the moral basis of law. The law is called natural law because people think that everyone knows it by nature and does not need to be taught it.

Everyone has heard people quarrelling. Quarrelling means trying to show that the other man is in the wrong. And there would be no sense in trying to do that unless you and he had some sort of agreement as to what right and wrong are; just as there would be no sense in saying that a footballer had committed a foul unless there was some agreement about the rules of football. Now this law or rule about right and wrong is called the natural law or the law of human nature.

First, The idea was that, just as all bodies are governed by the law of gravitation, and organisms by biological laws, so the creature called man also had his law- with this great difference, that a body could not choose whether it obeyed the law of gravitation or not, but a man could choose either to obey the law of human nature or to disobey it.

Second, the modern world has learned from the tragic experience of uncritical liberalism, shallow legal positivism, and cruel dictatorship in so many parts of the world, that it needs to recover the notion of natural justice and natural law. Something of this is reflected in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights In 1948, and it is interesting to note that Japan, Germany and Italy, countries which had experienced totalitarian regimes, made considerable use of the natural law concept in rebuilding their legal systems.

Third, it would be irresponsible to ignore the accumulated wisdom of millennia of human history and discard a concept that is at the very core of civilization. Down through the centuries  philosophers, theologians, statesmen and especially prophets have appealed to this law as the foundation of for all laws, in their protests against unjust laws, and in their cry for justice.

Fourth, most essentially, natural law is our very nature as human beings, free agents capable of creating our own destiny, of shaping the future of the world, but we can do this successfully only if we respect our own human nature and the basic structure of reality.

Fifth, we can refer to the testimony of the Bible.  In the first and second chapters of St. Paul’s letter to Romans, he speaks of something very like our idea of natural law, the law which is not announced by from the outside but which rather is heard and experienced in the depths of one’s own heart(Rom 1/18ff; Rom 2/12, 14f).

Sixth, Decalogue is in fact, is nothing but natural law. It was not unique to Israel. At least the concrete requirements of Commandments 1V-X can also be found in the Egyptian “Book of the Dead” and in Babylonian literature. It may be appropriate to view these moral demands as being, in fact, some sort of natural law.


I. Moral and Legal Orders

The distinction between “moral” and “legal” is important. Moral is what is legitimate, that is, what is in accordance with right reason (the natural law). Existence and development of human beings, the common good, etc. rank as some of the highest values. Whatever is contributory to such values is legitimate. Contrariwise, whatever detracts from such basic goods is illegitimate. Legal represents whatever is in accordance with law. Law comprises both Written and unwritten laws.

Morality concerns itself with the rightness or wrongness of our conduct. Law or public policy, on the other hand, is concerned with the maintenance of social order. Clearly, then, morality and law are both related and distinct.

2. Intimate Relation between Law and Morality

It is commonly supposed that law and morality are two different realities. So indeed they are. But, even so, they are closely related and frequently influence one another. The suggestion that law and morality should be totally detached and unrelated to each other is unacceptable for various reasons

. First, the legal order comes from the moral order and is an integral part of it. For St. Thomas the domain of human laws arises from the moral order. The legal order, determined by law, constitutes an integral part of the moral order (natural law), namely, the area of justice which regulates objective relations according to the demands of morality. Moreover, St. Thomas defines law as an ordinance of reason, for the common good, promulgated by one who has charge of the community. Law acts by reason and prescribes the order of reason, which is the very definition of morality. In brief, all genuine legal systems reproduce the substance of certain fundamental moral requirements.

Second, law and morality both deal with the living and the quality of human life. Law ought to keep close to the moral sense of the community while the moral sense of the community ought to inspire law. This would not amount to repression of minority opinion because in a civilized society general moral sense would include toleration of differing moral viewpoints and practices.

Third, law and morality support one another. Morality supports law. If compliance to law were to rely merely, or principally, on police control and court sanction we would be having a very odd society indeed. But, in fact, law appeals to people’s sense of responsibility and civilization consists in this that citizens act, not from fear but from personal convictions regarding the need and meaning of law. Law, in turn, supports morality. If civil law, for instance, were not to generate basic conditions for ordered society and provide people with opportunities for human living, moral life would be impossible indeed. Moral responsibilities would remain un-discharged and moral rights unprotected in the face of encroachments by the unscrupulous.

Fourth, we can hardly divorce law from moral values, Constitutional and civil laws formulate and guarantee human freedoms and rights — the freedom of movement, expression and association, the right to life, integrity, and property, for instance. These freedoms and rights are worthy of respect precisely because of the moral values inherent in the concept of human person. The same is true of criminal law. Certain actions such as murder, rape, assault, kidnapping, false imprisonment, perjury, bribery, etc., seen by conscientious Men as sins are seen by law as crimes.

3. Difference between Law and Morality


Interdependence of law and morality does not mean that they are identical. In spite of their intimate relationship, law and morality are different in many ways. First, their fields converge but do not coextend. It is only when human individual acts have ascertainable negative public consequences on the maintenance and stability of society that they are proper concerns of society and fit subjects for law. Law does not reproduce all the moral prescriptions; it is concerned with the moral order from the formally social point of view. In other words, it deals with public morality rather that with private morality.

In one sense it is false to dichotomize public and private morality, since they are of a piece. But we can isolate a number of issues which bear directly on our life together in our community and only indirectly on our personal lives; we shall ill these “public morality.” There are others which are identified primarily with our personal lives, hut which have important, if indirect, bearing on our public and social lives.We shall call these “private morality.”

Incidentally, it should be noted that the distinction between public morality and private morality is not the same as that between publicity and secrecy. Public lie does not belong to public morality, while secret murder does. The former is not a crime, while the latter is.

Crime is to be distinguished from sin. Why is a particular act treated as crime? Earliest reference to the word “crime” dates back to 14th century when it conveyed to the mind something reprehensible, wicked or base. Any conduct which, a sufficiently powerful section of any given community feels to be destructive of its own interest, endangering its safely, stability or comfort is usually regarded as heinous and is sought to he repressed with severity with the help of the sovereign power of the State.

A crime presents these characteristics: First, it is a harm, brought about by human conduct which the sovereign power in the State desires to prevent; second, among the measures of prevention selected is the threat of punishment; and third, legal proceedings of a special kind are employed to decide whether the person accused did in fact cause the harm, and is, according to law, to be held legally punishable for doing so,

Protection of society is the basic reason of treating some acts as crime. The sole end for which mankind is warranted individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of

action of any of its members is self-protection. The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others

Not to lose connection, we were thus far considering the first difference between law and morality. Now we come to the second difference, namely, that there is the possibility of clash between law and morality. Human laws may enjoin behavior which is morally bad or enjoin behavior which, even if not morally bad, is simply none of the law’s business. In the former case, one is obliged to disobey the law, and in the latter case, only prudence can determine in the particular circumstances whether obedience or  disobedience is the wise course of action.



About bodhicap

This is the journal-blog from the Capuchins at Bodhi Institute of Theology, Tillery, Kollam, India.
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