A friend asked:
“Whose morality do we legislate? Yours? Mine? Or do we only consider things that should be universally moral? Murder? And what are the limits? Blue laws, prostitution, drug laws, these can all be considered moral, but I find any victimless laws to be irrational and not worthy of being adhered to. I only do so to avoid the consequences. Where do we draw the lines of morality?”
I have tried to study that question. Sadly, I have found that there is at least one internally consistent moral system to justify any act one chooses to make. For example: we consider ISIS beheadings as gruesome murders while Islam considers those beheadings as Sacred Duty to their god. In effect, Islam practices human sacrifice, something abandoned by Jews and Christians centuries ago.
First one must choose a system of Ethics (or morality). Then one must live and die by that system. The dominant system in Western Civilization is the Judeo-Christian Ethical System. It works for me, with some minor adjustments borrowed from Ayn Rand’s Objectivist Phlosophy and pre-Dewey Pragmatist Philosophy. It worked for our nation for the first 200 years or so. On the down side while this makes me a 19th century liberal, it also makes me a hard-core right-wing conservative in today’s politically correct environment. But that is the result of Moral Relativism.
These questions open the door to Moral Relativism. That system is the one that has brought our nation, and most of Europe, to the degenerate conditions we see all around us. In truth, not everything is forbidden in all Ethical Systems. Not everything is equally bad in all Ethical Systems. Some systems, Islam comes to mind, tolerate and even promote human sacrifice. There is no universal standard of good and evil, therefore a rational man must adopt one and live by it.
I have adopted an Ethical System that is primarily Judeo-Christian. I take the Word literally when admonished to temper Justice with Mercy wherever and whenever possible.
To the best of my knowledge only two philosophers have started with the Human Condition to derive their philosophies: Spinoza and Rand. I find Spinoza strangely apologetic for his own conclusions. I also find his conclusions quite often disturbing. Rand is completely unapologetic, but in my opinion there are some details she doesn’t get quite right. All in all, the best system is the one used until recently by all of Western Civilization: 19th century Judeo-Christian Pragmatism.
But there is a serious problem in today’s world with this Ethical System. Honest application damns our common politics, many of our laws, socialism in all of its forms, and the entire religion of Islam. The application problem is even more confused when we recognize that what most people today think is Christianity isn’t.
All man-made law is an attempt to legislate morality. In this sense we cannot be a “nation of laws” unless our morality is internally consistent. In this sense the Islamic State is more true to its own morality than the US. They have one well defined and internally consistent Ethical System. Of late Western Civilization attempts to accommodate all comers with the result that every day more things become illegal without consistency. Sometimes the resulting laws are contradictory and inconsistent.
This simple truth remains; It is impossible to make any law without morality, some morality, somebody’s morality. There is great debate whether victimless crimes should be crimes at all. Here the answer depends on which System one is using. In one system a thing that is wrong in public becomes right in private while in another system the death penalty can be imposed in both cases (e.g.: an insult to the Mohammedan prophet).
We should not be debating the relative merits of Ethical Systems. If our laws are to be consistent and non-oppressive, if our society is be safe in its day-to-day activities we need a single consistent Ethical System, but more than that. We need all of our man-made law to derive rationally from that Ethical System.
Changing back and forth between a variety of Moral Systems, as the US has been doing for several decades now, guarantees confusion and oppression. There is no consistency whatsoever in the resulting law. People will ignore or disobey conflicting and irrational man-made law. At some point when the number of laws becomes so great as to be incomprehensible to anyone with less than 6 years of college and law degree the law becomes meaningless. At that point there is no longer any Moral System to guide the people and they will choose their own without regard to man-made law.
Most Moral Systems include a requirement to force others into believing and behaving accordingly. The two most notable exceptions to this rule are Buddhism and Christianity, both of which include strong elements of tolerance for others. If we accept the undeniable truth that all man-made law is an attempt to legislate morality, then we must also accept the obligation to choose a Moral System to guide the making of that law.