What role does the law play in moral issues

What role does the law play in moral issues

Mrs Marietta Koh implied that society's morality is at stake if dating website Ashley Madison is allowed to operate here ("Mind the social costs"; Tuesday).

We need to question her utilitarian analysis of weighing social costs and benefits.

If we can justify blocking Ashley Madison for the reasons proffered by Mrs Koh, can we then block the many avenues for infidelity that already exist, such as chat sites?

To answer that question, we must be clear about what aspect of public morality is at stake, and whether it is grave enough for the community to agree to block the website.

British jurist Patrick Devlin firmly believed that bans can be appropriately placed if they serve to protect the moral structure of society.

If we agree that the introduction of Ashley Madison could possibly cause our society to disintegrate through the loosening of moral bonds, then a ban would be well justified.

However, this should be contrasted with English philosopher John Stuart Mill's view that such bans should be imposed only if they prevent harm to others.

After all, we should respect man as a responsible agent who is cognisant of the decisions he makes.

To this end, we need to question whether society should always be paternalistic.

Regardless of the introduction of the dating site, we should expect married couples to be well aware of the consequences of infidelity.

Our societal view on the matter should really depend on how we view the role of legislation in governing moral issues. There is no easy answer to this if we do not settle the question of whether the law should be separable from morality.

Desmond Chew


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