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Letter: Legality and morality aren't the same
Marijuana - photo by Associated Press

If you regularly peruse the news, via any medium, you have encountered the phrase “rule of law.” For many, the rule of law is a sine qua non for morality. If a behavior doesn’t violate the law, then it is moral. However, it’s not quite so simple.

In Lawrence Kohlberg’s famous theory of moral development (originally published in 1958), there are six stages of development, ordered in a hierarchy. The rule of law coincides with Level 4. There are two levels that are higher, one in which people base morality on belief in a social contract (that laws are beneficial for everyone in society) and the last in which morality is based on abstract universal moral principles.

It is interesting that currently in the state of Georgia, the possession of medicinal marijuana is legal, but getting it is illegal, at least until July 1. As of that date (or in the months thereafter when the system is organized), it will be legal in Georgia to grow and sell medicinal marijuana. Of course, recreational marijuana will still be illegal in Georgia, although it is legal in 10 other states.

Many other examples come to mind, including Prohibition, civil rights, women’s rights, etc. Not too long ago, engaging in any type of homosexual activity was illegal; now homosexual people can marry each other.

Laws are made by men and women. Some are good and some are not. Some remain, some are discarded, and some are changed. But legal reasoning, at best, is only in the middle stage of moral development. What is right and wrong is ultimately based on a subjective assessment of justice, mercy and equality for all members of society.

Peter McDonald


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