“Difference between Laws and Morals” by Zain

As humans living in a democratic, civil society we are bound by laws that protect us and morals that define us. Laws that are specific and written down in detail that, when broken, are punishable by formal consequences. And morals are ideas or beliefs that we hold. This could change from person to person but when a moral code is broken, the person feels immense regret and shame. So, what really separates laws from morals and what forces are present to implement them.

So, what is a law? According to the Cambridge dictionary a law is defined as, ‘A rule, usually made by a government, that is used to order the way in which society behaves”. What this means is that law, unlike moral, is a set of rules that are made and enforced by some form of authority. This involves laws against drug abuse, sexual harassment, theft. But laws are not only made to ‘order’ the way people behave, there are also laws made by the government that binds the government and that the common people can utilise to protect themselves against the government. When these laws are broken, either by the people or the government, punishments are in place to prevent further offences. This includes prison, fines, public service, etc.


And in contrast, moral is defined by the Cambridge dictionary, as “Relating to the standards of good or bad behaviour, fairness, honesty, etc. that each person believes in, rather than to laws”. This means that a set of morals is unique to every person and is a form of self-governing that, when broken, has deep emotional and mental consequences imposed on one by oneself. For example, a person may consider hurting someone’s feelings a breach of his moral code even though it is not a law. 


Laws and morals are similar in some ways and different in others. When someone breaks a law they are met with the punishment for breaking that law but it will also come with some amount of emotional consequences such as guilt and how others perceive you. An example of this is tax avoidance vs tax evasion. Tax evasion is when someone, generally a large company, would conceal income information to reduce the amount of tax they have to pay. This is illegal and punishable by time in jail as well as a fine. Tax avoidance on the other hand is when a company finds ways of legally reducing the tax they need to pay. This reflects poorly on the company because by avoiding paying taxes they are transferring that cost and the poorer people will suffer. So in this case what they are doing is not illegal but had far-reaching consequences and is seen as immoral by society.


But it also works the other way. For example, when a mother steals money to buy food to feed her starving baby, that is illegal but not immoral. When a parent drives over the speed limit to get their sick child to the hospital that is also illegal but not immoral and no one would want to see her persecuted. This shows that the law only sees the facts of the case and does not empathise with different cases. Whether this may be right or wrong it is how the law functions. “Law is reason without passion”. Aristotle.


Author: Zain

Zain is a Year 13 student at Cherwell College Oxford

Zain reads A-Level Maths, Economics and History

He is also working towards his Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) project and is currently preparing for the Law National Aptitude Test (LNAT) to apply to top UK universities for his undergraduate studies