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Legal, Moral and Social Duties

What is the difference between legal, moral and social duties and how do they relate to one another? Learn more in this video.
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In this video, we will look at the different types of duties that members of society may owe to each other. We will examine the differences between them and look at some examples. We will look at three different types of duty, moral, legal, and social. A moral duty is a duty that members of society believe that they owe to each other as a result of their personal, moral or ethical beliefs. For example, if you’re walking down a road hear a small voice calling for help and see that a child has fallen into a ditch, you would probably feel a moral obligation to help the child to get out of the ditch.
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You do not have to help and no one is making you help. You will probably feel that you should, because it’s the right thing to do. This is a moral duty. In contrast, a legal duty is a duty created by law. Legal duties do not result from any particular system of moral values. Legal duties include things like not speeding when driving a car, and not committing criminal damage. These things are against the law, and if you decide to do them anyway, the state will punish you. You have to make sure that you behave in accordance with your legal duties. Social duties are something else entirely. They’re more informal duties that helps society to operate on a daily basis.
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They may not be backed up by legal consequences, and they may not be the result of a moral obligation. You may regard recycling as a social duty, for example, you will generally not get into trouble with the law if you do not recycle them and it’s not likely to be seen as an immoral act, but by recycling your making the world and nicer place for other members of society. What we will find as we turn to look at some examples, is that these three different types of duty can overlap quite significantly. Firstly, moral duties are not always legally enforceable. A classic example is adultery.
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Adultery occurs when a married man or woman engages in a sexual relationship with someone who is not their husband or wife. Do you think that adultery is against the law in the UK? Adultery is not illegal in the UK it is grounds for divorce, but it’s not illegal. However, adultery is against the law in some countries, it’s just Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and in others, it’s technically against the law, but prosecutions tend not to take place. In New York, for example, adultery is a crime. Do you think that adultery is immoral? Many, if not all people consider adultery to be immoral in most, if not all circumstances. Why is it not illegal?
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Well, exclusively moral duties are not usually the subject of illegal protection because it can be very difficult to please them. What people do in the privacy of their own homes or hotel rooms is treated as a private matter by the law. Such behavior is generally regarded as falling outside the scope of legal intervention. What about speeding? Speeding involves driving your car faster than the speed limit allows. Do you think that speeding is illegal? Well, it is. There are statistics that show that there is a strong link between driving in an unsafe speed and the risk of serious injury. Do you think that speeding is immoral?
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In 2015, 46 percent of UK motorists exceeded 70 miles per hour, which is the speed limit in motorway traffic. Do you think that they felt morally responsible for their actions? Perhaps not although they were committing a criminal offense and putting others at risk. There’s a fine balance to be struck. If that balance becomes distorted and a dangerous form of ideology takes hold, then this can allow the law to be abused. Let’s think next about social duties. Although the role of social attitudes is often downplayed or minimized in lawmaking, it would be extremely difficult for states to enforce laws that depart too greatly from social attitudes.
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At the end of the day, it’s society that ultimately decides what behavior is good and what is bad. Legal rules would naturally reflect social values in the past, there was no real difference between legal and social obligations. Nowadays, it would be difficult for laws to match social values as precisely as they did in the past. Let’s look at an example to see how this works in practice. If you stole an ice cream from this van or a store, you would expect to be arrested, charged with a criminal offense and punished that is a legal rule. One of the social rules that generally applies is that if you wish to purchase something, you should join the back of the queue.
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This is one of those nice social rules that stops chaos from breaking out and means that everyone gets to buy an ice cream in a nice orderly fashion. If you chose to push into the queue rather than waiting in line, you would have failed to comply with a social rule. You would annoy your fellow ice cream purchasers. You would not, however, expect to be arrested and carted off to jail. You’ve broken a social rule of convention, not a legal rule. You’ve annoyed people but you’ve not committed a crime. You may or may not morally be in the wrong. Is it immoral to push in? Perhaps, perhaps not, to be legitimate, laws must at least to some extent, reflect social values.
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To be legitimate, a law must be recognized as being in some way right and proper. It would be logical for moral and social values to reflect each other. Social values often reflect big issues, such as whether immigration is a bad thing or a good thing, and what welfare support a state should provide to its citizens. In ideal society, law would reflect social customs that a morally justifiable, this is virtually impossible. People have different views on right and wrong, and so this ideal society will never work. The study of law raises some tricky questions. During this unit, you will have the opportunity to look at a legal case that raises moral issues.
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Think carefully about whether the behavior that is described is likely to be morally justifiable. After listening to this video, you should now be able to explain the difference between legal, moral and social duties and how morality and social attitudes influence the law.

This video explains the difference between legal, moral and social duties and explores how the different types of duty relate to each other.

Take notes as you watch the video to enable you to complete the quiz that follows in the next step of this programme.

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