Criminal vs. Immoral

by | Mar 24, 2001

Q: What is the difference between what is “immoral” and what is “criminal”? Isn’t something criminal, so long as it’s objectively judged, also immoral? A: If something is rationally judged criminal, then by definition it’s immoral as well. For example, it’s rational to judge fraud as criminal. And fraud is immoral, even by an ethical […]

Q: What is the difference between what is “immoral” and what is “criminal”? Isn’t something criminal, so long as it’s objectively judged, also immoral?

A: If something is rationally judged criminal, then by definition it’s immoral as well. For example, it’s rational to judge fraud as criminal. And fraud is immoral, even by an ethical standard of rational self-interest because fraud, after all, is not too good for business over the long run. Other actions rationally judged as criminal are also immoral: rape, murder, kidnapping, hostage-taking, property destruction, and many others. To rationally judge something criminal is to establish that it involves the initiation of physical force or fraud against another party. Criminal definitions should go no further.

Of course, many illegal actions today should not be judged as criminal because they do not involve the initiation of force against anyone else. Drug abuse, for example, should not be criminal — but it is overwhelmingly considered such. Why? Because most people feel it’s possible and desirable for government to rescue people from themselves. However, despite this legal injustice, drug abuse is immoral, by a standard of rational self-interest. It destroys the mind’s ability to function and it destroys an individual’s ability to enjoy life, to be self-responsible, and to achieve one’s full potential.

Today, we have two major problems in this society. One problem is that nearly everyone assumes that government must legislate morality. When a debate arises about whether a particular behavior should be made illegal, you almost never hear: Is this something government should be involved in? Is this something that involves fraud, or the initiation of force? Instead, we worry whether or not it’s immoral.

If it’s immoral, it must be made illegal. Is cell phone use in restaurants immoral? If so, make it illegal. Is cigarette smoking immoral? If so, make it illegal. Are offensive paintings immoral? If so, outlaw them; if not, subsidize them with tax money. The alleged ability and alleged right of the government to be involved in stomping out something immoral is an undisputed absolute.

The other major danger is that morality is, most often, defined by non-objective standards. Instead of determining whether or not something is or is not, in fact, in an individual’s objective interest to do or not do, people instead turn to arbitrary commandments (religion) or mere gut feelings (subjectivism) to determine morality. Rationalizations and other crazy standards fly back and forth. Morally grotesque figures, such as Jesse Jackson and Bill Clinton on the left, and Reverend Jerry Falwell and Dr. Laura on the right, become our moral authorities by default in such a context. It is in this bizarre context that people try not only to establish what is moral and immoral — but they also try to claim that everything deemed “immoral” must automatically be made illegal. It’s total insanity. All that can save us from it is our determination to call it what it is.

For many more details on how to introspect, see Dr. Hurd’s book “Effective Therapy.” For more details on self-esteem, see “Grow Up America!” also by Dr. Michael Hurd. Both books are available elsewhere on this site, at Amazon.com, and your local bookstore. http://www.drhurd.com/

Dr. Michael Hurd is a psychotherapist, columnist and author of "Bad Therapy, Good Therapy (And How to Tell the Difference)" and "Grow Up America!" Visit his website at: www.DrHurd.com.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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