Suppose there existed an isolated society somewhere with a central ruling (church-like) committee that dictates how people should live. If that committee came up with a set of social rules that no one is allowed to break, let's say for instance "men should not wear red," and if someone breaks a rule the committee will forbid the people to have any form of social interaction with the person until he either dies of hunger or repents.

Would that be morally wrong, given there is no moral obligation for the people to interact with that person?

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    A bald ruling such as 'men should not wear red' seems a little odd in the context of judgements that are seen empirically seen; perhaps if judges wore red, and people were attempting to pass themselves off as a judge by wearing red and copying their speech, ie being a fraud or a con-trick; then a practical judgement might be 'men who aren't judges shouldn't wear red'; the underlying judgement here of course, is that positive law should be maintained positively. Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 15:30
  • That seems to me straight-forwardly moral o ethical, to me; but no doubt there can be abuses even here. Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 15:31
  • The issue is : "Is it ethical to obey an unethical law ?" where ethical is about "good conduct". Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 15:32
  • @MoziburUllah my point is , the act of breaking that law isn't immoral - if you want a more realistic example I would say "men should not have sex before marriage" - what would be your answer then Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 15:43
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    I think that you need to examine the question in terms of the individual, since society as a whole does not possess morals or ethics. They are a personal trait. The question has to be: What is the moral situation of a person in that society? Should they enforce or promote arbitrary but lawfully agreed upon rules? Should they disobey? Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 19:30

1 Answer 1


Typically moral questions need to be referred to some moral framework, because, while there is wide overlap on moral intuitions, there is no one universally endorsed set of moral standards, and there are moral questions where different moral frameworks (or set of core commitments) arrive at widely divergent answers.

In this case, however, your question seems to be more oriented around whether any moral framework can establish arbitrary rules, and if those rules then do have actual moral force. There are two ways to approach this. One, we can note, that, in practice, very few moral laws are actually completely arbitrary, they may just have a significance that is unclear. For example, many of the ancient Jewish dietary and cultural rules seem arbitrary out of context, but when considered as a group, they have a collective impact as a way to establish a unified group identity and self image. Two, there's arguably value in following a moral code, even if the individual moral rules are arbitrary --it provides some structure to life, and a point of connection between people.

If you believe, however (as most of us do, at some fundamental level) that there are objective, universal moral absolutes, then a moral code that promotes objectively immoral behavior would have to be judged as itself immoral (from some outside moral standpoint). Proscribing what amounts to a death sentence for a minor transgression might well fall in this category. You could also have a self-defeating moral code --for instance one that both enforced and prohibited the wearing of red. That code would arguably itself be immoral on the grounds that it damages the entire institution of morality.

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