You’ll have to excuse me, but it is time to really climb on my soap box (which usually means this will be one of my better posts). The impetus for this post comes from a comment on another blog. I have heard the notion that was expressed in this comment many times, and it is always uttered out of arrogance and ignorance – because it is demonstrably false. The notion is that morality cannot be legislated because every individual has their own ideas of right and wrong. Well, it may be true that every individual has their own idea of what is right and wrong, but it is equally true that the majority of us are wrong! The problem is that morality is eternal and universal: what is right is right for everyone, everywhere and at all times. The same applies to what is wrong. If this is not true, then there is nothing than can be said to be right or wrong: only what can be forced on others. And from this comes the obvious conclusion that, if there is one eternal, universal moral law, it most certainly can be legislated.
I wrote about this previously in my post, LESSONS IN LOGIC: You Can ‘Legislate’ Morality. So, this time, I think I’ll try to explain why the idea that everyone can have their own idea of right and wrong leads to lawlessness. And I am going to lean on a friend to help me do so:
“I never … believed there was one code of morality for a public and another for a private man.”
–Thomas Jefferson, In a letter to Don Valentine de Feronda, 1809
By simple, logical extension, if there is no morality for the private person that is different from the morality of the public person, or for the private and public life of each person, then there can be no different morality between peoples, either. This means that – at least in the opinion of Jefferson – that there is only one moral law. This is Natural Law, and it is evident to all who are honest with themselves:
“It behooves you, therefore, to think and act for yourself and your people. The great principles of right and wrong are legible to every reader; to pursue them requires not the aid of many counselors. The whole art of government consists in the art of being honest. Only aim to do your duty, and mankind will give you credit where you fail.”
–Thomas Jefferson, A Summary View of the Rights of British America, 1775
So we are left to determine what we mean by morality: what is it and how is it derived?