Thursday, May 13, 2004

'You Can't Legislate Morality!'

People who say this are often people who confuse the genus
morality with the species sexual morality. But even upon acquiescence in this genus-species confusion, it is obvious that we can, do, and ought to legislate morality. After all, we have laws against rape, and we ought to have them. The fundamental problem, however, is the confusion of morality with sexual morality. That the two are distinct should be self-evident, hence I won’t spare the reader the pleasure of providing his own examples. The next time someone says, ‘You can’t legislate morality,’ you say: ‘All legislation is the legislation of morality; therefore, if you oppose the legislation of morality, then you oppose all legislation.’

Of course, from the fact that all legislation is the legislation of morality, it does not follow, nor is it true, that all morality ought to be legislated. In other words, it doesn't follow, nor is it true, that everything morally impermissible should be illegal, or that everything morally obligatory should be legally required. I would say that drinking oneself into a stupor is morally impermissible, but if it is done in private, the state and its laws should not get involved. (But drive on public roads in that condition, and the whole force and fury of the state and its laws ought to come down on your head.) And I would say that maintaining oneself in good health through proper diet and exercise is morally obligatory, but I don't want to see any laws to that effect. State power cannot be allowed unlimited scope.