Common Law Approaches to the Relationship Between Law and Morality

Roger Cotterrell
March 2000
Ethical Theory & Moral Practice;Mar2000, Vol. 3 Issue 1, p9
Academic Journal
How are general relations of law and morality typically conceived in an environment of Anglo-saxon common law? This paper considers some classical common law methods and traditions as these have confronted and been overlaid with modern ideas of legal positivism. While classical common law treated a community and its morality as the cultural foundation of law, legal positivism's analytical separation of law and morals, allied with liberal approaches to legal regulation, have made the relationship of legal and moral principles more complex and contested. Using ideas from Durkheim's and Weber's sociology, I argue that the traditional common law emphasis on an inductive, empirical treatment of moral practices has continuing merit, but in contemporary conditions the vague idea of community embedded in classical common law thought must be replaced with a much more precise conceptualisation of coexisting communities, whose moral bonds are diverse and require a corresponding diversity of forms of legal recognition or protection.


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