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Day 16 – Q 3. Can law alone ensure ethical conduct? Critically examine.

3. Can law alone ensure ethical conduct? Critically examine.

क्या कानून अकेले नैतिक आचरण सुनिश्चित कर सकता है? समालोचनात्मक जांच करें।


     Laws are rules of conduct that government creates and requires people to obey whereas ethics refers to human conduct based on a set of established standards. Law and Ethics are considered to be the two tools for controlling human conduct so as to make it conducive for civilized social existence.


     Ethical conduct in human society is considered paramount as it is based on critical thinking and reason. Socrates is known as the father of Ethics, who influenced generations of thinkers after him like Plato, Aristotle, etc. 

   In this regard, there multiple sources of ethical conduct like religion, law, society, individual, knowledge, time and other sources. Here, law is defined as a rule that has been legally made to apply to everyone in a civilisation. In a democratic system, a law is phrase that has been passed by a legislature. 

TLP SYNOPSIS [Day 16 - 28th Oct, 2019]: UPSC Mains General Studies Questions

TLP SYNOPSIS [Day 16 – 28th Oct, 2019]: UPSC Mains General Studies Questions

     Based on society’s beliefs, laws are created and enforced by governments to mediate in our relationships with each other. Laws must be followed by all, including private citizens, groups and companies as well as public figures, organizations and institutions. Laws set out standards, procedures and principles that must be followed. 

     While laws carry with them a punishment for violations, ethics does not. In ethics everything depends on the person’s conscience and self worth. For example, driving carefully and within the speed limit because a person not  wanting to hurt someone is ethical, but if one drives slowly because he/she see’e a police car behind, this suggests fear of breaking the law and being punished for it.

     Ethics comes from within a person’s moral sense and desire to preserve his self respect. It is not as strict as laws. Laws are codifications of certain ethical values meant to help regulate society, and punishments for breaking them can be harsh and sometimes even break ethical standards.

     For example, take the case of the death penalty. Everyone knows that killing someone is wrong, yet the law punishes people who break the law with death.

     Furthermore, laws play role as a punitive tool towards ensuring ethical conduct in humans in a civilised society. Child labour acts in statute books around the world are a case in point where ethical behavior of not employing child labours is ensured through legislations for the same. 

     At the same time, it is important to remember that following law doesn’t always ensure ethical conduct for humans. An illegal act may be deemed more ethical than when following law to the book. For example, the act of whistleblowing to bring out information important for the society can be seen as illegal but many consider it an ethical conduct. The case of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange clearly demonstrates this phenomenon.

     Rigid implementation of laws also cannot serve the purpose of ethical conduct as is evident from the recent Supreme Court judgement with respect to Forest Rights Act for tribals in India. Here, many tribals have been ordered to vacate their traditional dwelling places owing to SC’s interpretation of archaic laws.

In a rules based society, laws serve the important function of regulating society towards a harmonius extistence without which there would be choas and anarchy, ‘matsyanyaya’ as has been termed in ancient Indian texts. 


Thus, it can be seen that laws can ensure ethical conduct provided that the law making procedure is guided by ethical thinking while also realising that ethical conduct of an individual has many inspiration’s where internal human conscience is the most important one driving the ethical behavior of humans.

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