Difference between “Legal” and “Ethical”

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One of the most basic principles people learn in early childhood is respect for the law. At the same time, another truth is taught, which is valued equally – behavior according to moral standards. Both are important concepts in the upbringing of children and the cultivation of societal values. However, not always do legal and ethical standards coexist in peace. It can even be stated that sometimes ethical behavior inherently contradicts citizen conduct promoted by law. For example, it is a commonly accepted norm to value human life. If a person accidentally puts themselves or other people in danger, it is ethical to prevent them from harming themselves. At the same time, it also a common value to allow people the freedom of making their own choices. Yet, there are countries, which prohibit abortion, as well as countries, which view it as completely legal action. As a result, there is a contradiction between what is moral and what is lawful.

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In order to ascertain the difference, it is necessary to understand the origins of laws and morals. Whereas morality is highly subjective, meaning that the same actions can be interpreted completely differently in various cultures, laws are supposed to be objective, which should not allow for alternative interpretation (Petrazycki & Trevino, 2017). In practice, a person can commit a morally reprehensible action, which is lawful, such as killing armed people during wartime. Yet, preventing the police from neutralizing a criminal can be punishable. The most effective way to conceptualize the difference is understanding that laws are not driven by morality but are a result of the agreement between specific people to resolve controversial issues.

Separation of powers is a key principle of democratic governments, which acknowledge human fallibility and excessive ambitions. The classic understanding of the separation of powers lies in the division of government into independent branches, which prevent one particular individual or group of people from being overpowered. Although the typical model is the government which consists of the legislature, executive, and judicial branches, there are many ways of distributing power, all of which prevent single-handed political domination (Von Achenbach, 2017). The separation of powers also serves another function, which is the specialization of different branches. For instance, politicians in the legislative branch are better at lawmaking, while the representatives of the executive branch understand the most effective ways of implementing those laws. In theory, the result should be a well-balanced government with a strictly defined set of responsibilities.

The main principle, which makes the separation of powers work, is the system of checks and balances. In governments where this principle is implemented, all branches control each other for the purpose of preventing abuse of power. The most well-known government, which illustrates the system of checks and balances, is that of the United States. Congress makes laws, which can be vetoed by the President. Yet, the President’s veto can be overridden by the Supreme Court and the majority vote in the legislative branch. The judicial branch is controlled by the President, who nominates the judges. Finally, Congress can impeach the President, thus restricting the executive power. As a result, all branches have to consider the domains of each other in order to make important political decisions. Naturally, not all governments have the same separation of power, yet in one way or another, it is introduced in all contemporary governments.


Petrazycki, L., & Trevino, A. J. (2017). Law and morality. Routledge.

Von Achenbach, J. (2017). Separation of powers and the role of political theory in contemporary democracies. International Journal of Constitutional Law, 15(3), 861-865.

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"Difference between "Legal" and "Ethical"." DemoEssays, 3 Sept. 2022, demoessays.com/difference-between-legal-and-ethical/.


DemoEssays. (2022) 'Difference between "Legal" and "Ethical"'. 3 September.


DemoEssays. 2022. "Difference between "Legal" and "Ethical"." September 3, 2022. https://demoessays.com/difference-between-legal-and-ethical/.

1. DemoEssays. "Difference between "Legal" and "Ethical"." September 3, 2022. https://demoessays.com/difference-between-legal-and-ethical/.


DemoEssays. "Difference between "Legal" and "Ethical"." September 3, 2022. https://demoessays.com/difference-between-legal-and-ethical/.