Nexus between Law and Morality

In this article, the author examines whether there occurs a role for law in moral matters and traces the interrelation of law and morality through ancient times. The popular concept of the connection between law and morality is that in some way the law exists to promote morality, to preserve those conditions which make the moral life possible, and then to enable men to lead sober and industrious lives. The average man regards law as justice systematized, and justice itself as a somewhat confusion of moral principles. The researcher through this article intends to portray the relation between Law and Morality during the contemporary context. In order to reach the conclusion i.e. to form a relation between the two, the researcher would like to give a brief overview of these two aspects in the introduction, then go on to explain the nexus between these two.


Law is defined in many ways; however, the two main definitions can be described as natural law and legal positivism. Natural law is the view that laws are valid when they are in line with a certain higher authority over a man; this can be God (according to Aquinas) or even a shared morality amongst society (Lon fuller). Whereas legal positivism is the view that a law is only valid if it is made by the right practice for the state creating the law (e.g. laws passed through parliament) it does not matter if we even like these laws, just as long as they are made using the right process (Austin).[1]

Morality, on the other hand, is determined by the will of humans rather than the law itself, it is a set of standards we have set ourselves to decide what is morally right or wrong. Morality is similar to law, but laws and customs (morality) must both be obeyed. Although we can see there are cases of both the law reflecting morality and the law not reflecting certain moral judgments, we still need to ask whether it is required of the law to reflect morality. Laws aim at the smooth functioning of society. This is not always based upon how fair the law is, though some of the most efficient laws are the fairest.

Nexus between Law and Morality

Morality has been an integrated part of the law as part III and part IV of the Indian Constitution and also supports it but the Modern legal positivist approach regards it outdated and negative and, today Law can be identified without reference to morality except where law accepts the moral criteria for creating it. From an individual’s conscience and values of a society, the morality comes and appears, therefore, what morality means to me, may not be to you. It is very difficult to create a law when there is a conflict of opinion and morality always differs from individual to individual, however, morality cannot be always on the back of every statute. If something is immoral does not uncertainly makes it illegal and vice versa. This makes the difference between the two.


Law and morality these terms were synonyms at one point of time but in the modern age, both the terms have an important independent meaning which can be found in the respective sphere. Law is a code of rules and regulations governing human conduct. It consists of positive and negative directions imposed by the sovereign. As it is coercive in nature, therefore, everyone falling under its territory, are bound to follow these sets of rules. The relation between law and morality can be traced in these two ways:

  1. The former concept was, Morality as a basis of law.
  2. The present concept is Morality as a basis of law where law acknowledges the morality for making it.

Morality generally means ‘rules governing human behavior’ or sometimes one’s personal views about a thing or activity which should not be imposed upon others as these are not enforceable. Earlier law was purely based on morals and values. When the state came into existence, the society opted for those rules and values which were important from its point and put its own sanction behind it. These norms were known as the law. The rules made for good of the individual and which were not observed continuously by the state in its real term called morals. However, law and morality have the same institution but by the time, they deviated in the course of its development.

Many rules are mutual for both law and morality like robbery, murder; theft and decoity are some of the acts, against the law as well as morality. Though, it cannot be said that morals are the basis of legal rules. It can be said that usually law has some base of morals but law and morality can be described separately in the contemporary world.

There are various things, which may be immoral but not necessarily illegal like cheating on your friend or spouse, breaking promises (for certain sets of people) and which may be illegal but not necessarily immoral like drinking underage, abortion (for certain sets of people).

Take the issue of live-in relationships, which already has a moral ban on it. The following are other issues like prostitution, homosexuality which are in conflict to decide morality and law; therefore, morality cannot be legislated and as it depends upon the wishes of the individual except under certain circumstances. The purpose of the law is not to make the laws of the land ineffective but to maintain law and order in the country. If someone violates these minimum standards, then punishment is a remedy.

Accordingly, morality has got recognition but it does not mean that all the legal rules are based on morals. There are certain legal rules which are not based on morality. Some of the examples are vicarious liability, the principle of absolute liability.

Nexus between Law and Morality


In modern times, there is a difference between law and morality. Roscoe Pound states that “as to the application of moral and legal percepts respectively, it is said that moral principles are of individual and relative application; they must be implemented in reference to situation and individuals, whereas legal rules are of general and absolute application”[2]. The morality depends upon the will or conscience of the individual. An act moral for one person may be immoral for others and morals may mold the character of an individual.

One of the best examples can be taken of marriage in Hindus and Muslims. Only one marriage is considered sacred and bigamy is a sin in Hindus and in Muslims, they are allowed to marry four women at one point in time.

Law ensures consistency to the code of behavioral law and it is essential as it cannot completely ignore the ethical and moral aspects. If there are laws, not up to the standards of ethical behavior, such laws cannot survive in contemporary India. India is a sensitive country in terms of ethics like where riots take place even on very small causes.


Today, most of the times law is neglecting the moral principle for decisions by courts. Law believes in evidence and proofs rather than morals. In earlier days morality was the sole basis of law and now it is one of the bases for incorporating law. If already a person believes in one act and later on, state comes with a law making it binding, that law will become morally justified law for that person because he was already an admirer of that behavior but it will be difficult for those, who will acknowledge it, only after it came into being as binding.

It may prove troublesome for those people but they will have to follow the rules. Such sort of situation should be curtailed from society because it equates the law and morality at the same footing, which in reality are different.

It is argued by some scholars that nothing is legal unless it passes the test of morality. This proposition is not agreed by me because it is not necessary that every law should be backed by morality, every law has its own pros and cons and even in order to have a beneficial impact on society, the law need not pass the test of morality except under exceptional circumstances.

Nexus between Law and Morality


In the end, I would like to conclude that law and morality are separate. Today, legislations have to take care of the other aspects touching the need of society while making the law, which is beneficial for the society in some way. But the reality, on the other hand, is different which conveys that still the culture of creating a law on the basis of morality prevails but only at the places, where law directly accepts the moral criteria for its making and nowhere else.

Morality no more remains a backbone of law in its strict sense.  It can only state while concluding that the level of enforcement of moral standards depends upon case to case. A straightjacket formula cannot be applied by the law to enforce morality and the degree of enforcement of moral principles depends upon each case and circumstances.

If the effect of morality is injurious on society, then such a sort of morality should not be legislated. Novel India must reflect in the law of the land or statutes and it is taking place as can be seen from permitting of homosexuality, permitting euthanasia, etc.

Further, as morals differ from person to person the restrictions imposed on the laws of obscenity must be exercised liberally. To bring some positive changes in the life of people every system of law must be created and should not restrict itself to morals so as to have negative impacts for many.

Generally, in the form of justice, good faith, equity and conscience, morality has been inserted into law and legislature has to be cautious at the time of incorporating law because an act or stipulation cannot be inserted into statutes, which is completely against the morals of the society but in the court of law, when it comes to technicalities, often morals disappear.

Further, law and morality can be similar when morality and the public notion are same and law and morality cannot be similar when morality and the public notion are in engagement. Public opinion and morality cannot be the same if seen in terms of each and every individual.

Modern age has given importance on the morals rather than law because ultimately, law is like last resort in which people live with the fear in their mind and due to which they follow the same but according to me, if you have the intention to obey something because of morals, then you will do that with your own wish and will and that is better than living under apprehension. The law sets some rules and regulations keeping in mind the relation of an individual with the state and each other, but the reality is different, it does not maintain the wishes and wills of each and every individual of the state. Every person has its own different morals and they want to be governed by those morals.

[1]  Available at
[2] Available at W.Friedman, Legal Theory,5th edi.,4th Indian Reprint.