Morality Part 1: Ethics And Morality Go Hand In Hand

G. L. Batra, Writer & formerly Addl. Secretary, Indian Parliament and Chairman, Public Service Commission of the Indian State of Haryana

 Got ethics? Are you ethical question. Handwriting on a napkin wi

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“All sects are different, because they come from men; morality is everywhere the same, because it comes from God.”  Voltaire (1694 – 1778)

Ethics and morality together constitute a code of conduct to be observed by the people in a given society. The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines morality as “the moral principles governing or influencing conduct” or “the principles concerning the distinction between right and wrong” and “good and bad behavior” and also “the extent to which an action is right or wrong”. Ethics on the other hand, may be understood as a set of moral principles and values. Morality refers to the concept of human ethics which pertains to matters of good and evil, right and wrong, used within three contexts: individual conscience; systems of principles and judgments or moral values,  and which are shared within a cultural, religious, secular, humanist, or philosophical community. Moral and ethical values are not attained overnight or in a short span of time, but, to a large extent, are determined by traditions followed for a long time in the history of a nation. These values are inculcated in a person from his childhood and are influenced by the society in which he lives and moves.

The relationship between law, morality and justice has been a subject of interest to philosophers and jurists throughout. Civilized society rests on the foundation of morality and justice. However, the rise of the theory of Legal Positivism propounded by John Austin in the nineteenth century led to an understanding of law as being soulless, coercive and hostile to morality and justice.  This situation can be aptly summed up by the saying “Might shall be right ……and right shall lie in the might of the hand”. The positivist philosophy resulted in the creation of a society wherein problems and solutions were viewed, bereft of their aspects of morality, justice and humanity. These theories proposed by John Austin, Hans Kelsen and other positivistic jurists led to the establishment of a heartless and soulless political order which rested on status-quo and stability, was static rather than dynamic in nature, and caused tyranny and oppression by the strong over the weak. The decline in the standard of justice and morality was further accented after the end of World War II. This situation led several jurists to ask whether law can survive, and have true relevance without morality and justice, and whether morality, righteousness and ethics can be divorced from law. It took world leaders like Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jayaprakash Narayan, Julius Nyerere, Nelson Mandela and Lech Walesa to travel a different path and propound a society based on non-violence, truth and justice. Their ideology is opposed to a legal system based on coercion, and arbitrariness and capriciousness of the majority. They strove ceaselessly to reach equilibrium between morality and the law, and attempted to subject law to the tests of justice, morality and peace. It is only when law is based on such higher principles, that the ideals of liberty, justice and human dignity can be achieved. A disconnect between law and morality cannot exist in a society which aspires to govern itself by democratic principles, and assure liberty, justice and peace to its citizens.

The society and legal system of ancient India, in sharp contrast with the modern European Positivist school of jurisprudence was based on a morality and ethics rooted in Dharma (the spiritual code of righteousness and moral duty). It is a historical fact that the Indian civilization is amongst the oldest in the world. Public life in India has been governed by ethics and morality since historical times.  In ancient India, morality was the basis of Dharma, which in turn was the foundation of society, politics, culture, philosophy and legal theory. Indian society, and individual and social activities were regulated by Dharma. Even the ruling class and the kings were bound by the ethical notions of justice, fair play and equality before law.  The supremacy of this law based on Dharma was beyond any doubt, argument or debate, and even the ruler, was subject to it, and was punished for any transgressions thereof. The Upanishads, India’s ancient religious texts, enunciated the unity of the entire human race and described all men as Amrtasya Putraha (the children of the immortal), signifying that the all-pervading spark of divinity is present in every human being. In this context, Swami Vivekananda’s  memorable words seem appropriate : “The highest truth is this: God is present in all beings. They are his multiple forms. There is no other God to seek. The first of all worship is the worship of those around us……He alone serves God who serves all other beings. The old faith and old culture of India are not merely for Hindus, not merely for India but for the whole world.”

These sentiments echo the famous quote of Bulleh Shah, the 17th century Sufi mystic and poet who said,

“Mandar dhaa de, Masjid dhaa de, dhaa de jo kuch dhendaa;

par dil kisi daa naa dhaavin, kyonki Rab dilaan vich rehandaa”

English Translation – ‘Demolish the Temple and the mosque, and anything else you wish, but never break someone’s heart, for God dwells in this’.

To be continued……………

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