Law and ethics

(updated 4/26/2016)

1. A Shocking Crime

        What happened?

        Consider the ethical rule:

               It is unethical to contribute to a wrongful death

                    How does this apply here?

                    How does it impact her?

                   What is the deontological view of this ethical rule? 

                   What is the utilitarian view of the rule? 

           Consider the murder law at issue here

               It implements the ethical rule

Does it do that perfectly?

               If you were on the jury, how would you vote?

               If you were a good defense lawyer:

                       would you want deontologists


                       consequentialists on the jury?

               If you were a good prosecuting attorney:

                       would you want deontologists


                       consequentialists on the jury? 

               Have you ever been on a jury?



2. Some Examples of Laws

Laws about cars

Laws about homicide

Laws about copyright

Rules about plagiarism(?)

Is there a difference between a rule and a law? 

If so, what?

Law: 30 mph speed limit

Rule but not law?

     40 mph “real” speed limit…

     …if 30 mph stated limit…

     …and 10 mph assumed leeway

Rule but not law: don’t slouch

Both law and rule: many, many examples (such as?)

If all laws are rules, and some rules are laws, then which is a subset of which?







(Review) So, what is a law?

“Law is not the only
normative domain
in our culture;
social conventions,
and so on,
also guide human conduct
in many ways
which are
similar to law.” -SEP 


(Review) Two major theories

Ref: A. Marmor, 

       “The Nature of Law”, 

       The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Laws can be legitimate or not (obviously?)

Why is a law legitimate (or not)?

Two theories:

1. “Legal Positivism” theory

Legitimate laws reflect

socially defined rules

2. “Natural Law” theory

Laws must meet ethical standards

    St. Augustine: 

      “lex iniusta non est lex”

             Can you guess any words?









      “lex iniusta non est lex”

      (“law unjust not is law”)

      ((“unjust law is not law”))

Which theory seems preferable?
How do these two concepts interact?
    How might the conflict be resolved?
Henry David Thoreau wrote: “Unjust laws exist; shall we be content to obey them, or shall we endeavor to amend them, and obey them until we have succeeded, or shall we transgress them at once? Men generally, under such a government as this, think that they ought to wait until they have persuaded the majority to alter them. They think that, if they should resist, the remedy would be worse than the evil. But it is the fault of the government itself that the remedy is worse than the evil. It makes it worse. Why is it not more apt to anticipate and provide for reform? Why does it not cherish its wise minority? Why does it cry and resist before it is hurt? Why does it not encourage its citizens to be on the alert to point out its faults, and do better than it would have them?” ― Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience and Other Essays
Is Thoreau arguing for the legal positivism theory of law, or the natural law theory of law?
What do you think is the better theory now?
Can you think of an interesting argument for the other view?
If time: search for a case relating to the distinction between a law and an ethical rule

Wiki form

Making a new wiki page

1) Go to and log in (or create an account if you don’t have one yet)

2) Notice the address bar, which should read:

3) Delete the page name “Main_Page” in the address bar

4) Type in the page name you want to create where “Main_Page” used to be: use the page name Ethics_Future_XYZ6, where XYZ is your initials and 6 refers to HW6. IMPORTANT: if it is HW7 or some other HW, use “7” (or whatever #), not “6,” since you already made the “6” page for the previous HW.  A new page should be created for each HW!

5) Notice the editing window that should appear

6) Type into the editing window “This page is under construction.”

7) Scroll to bottom of page and click “Save”

8) Keep this piece of paper and use it to remember where your page is

9) Later, edit the page some more, replacing the “under construction” message with your answer to the HW question.

Welcome to Spring Semester 2013!

This is the Ethics course Web site. Please check the course information and syllabus pages (just click the appropriate tabs near the top of your screen). Due to a snow day yesterday, we will meet for the first time Thursday, 1/17. See you then!


Postings below are from previous semesters.