Rules, Principles and Conduct

  • A. J. M. Milne


1.1.1 Both morality and law are guides to conduct but there is an obvious difference between them. If I am caught breaking the law, I shall be brought before a court, sentenced and punished. But, if I am discovered acting immorally but not illegally – for instance, lying or betraying a confidence – there is no court which can sentence me. I shall incur blame, disapproval and perhaps hostility, but that is all. Law is backed by official sanctions imposed and carried out by judicial and penal authorities. Morality is backed only by the informal sanction of public opinion. But, although distinct, the two overlap. Actions which are prohibited by the criminal law are for the most part morally wrong whether or not they are illegal. Obvious examples are killing for private gain, rape, theft and unprovoked violence. The relation between law and morality is worth exploring further. But first something must be said about rules and principles and about rule-governed and principle-governed action. It is through the rules and principles which they contain that morality and law are guides to conduct. In this section I shall be concerned with rules, in the next with principles, before returning in the final section of the chapter to morality and law.


Moral Obligation Moral Rule Constitutive Rule Human Diversity Individual Situation 
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Copyright information

© A. J. M. Milne 1986

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. J. M. Milne
    • 1
  1. 1.University of DurhamUK

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