Can the law help us to be moral?

Richard Child, Kimberley Brownlee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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The moral value of law can take many forms. It is instrumentally valuable when it coordinates interaction, provides moral advice and leadership, models the virtues, and motivates us to be moral. It is intrinsically valuable when it constitutes the collective moral conscience of citizens, embodies an ideal form of communal life, and expresses the moral integrity of the community. We analyse all of these potential values of law and assess their moral significance. In doing so, we are careful to distinguish between (a) the general concept of law and (b) the actual law of any particular legal system. We argue that, although in principle law does have the potential to help us to be moral in each of the ways noted, many actual legal systems are conducive to great immorality and injustice. Being moral and living well under such regimes is likely to be much harder than it would be otherwise, even in the absence of any legal system.
Original languageEnglish
Early online date25 Sep 2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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