The whole reason that Hester and Dimmesdale's affair was such a scandal in the first place was that Puritan theocracy legislated morality in a very...strict way. To what extent do you think that we...

The whole reason that Hester and Dimmesdale's affair was such a scandal in the first place was that Puritan theocracy legislated morality in a very...

strict way. To what extent do you think that we try to legislate morality today? Think, for example, of social issues like abortion and gay rights. To what extent should morality be legislated?

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Susan Hurn eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Morality is a matter of philosophy; legislation is a matter of law. Problems develop and injustice often results when one group attempts to impose its moral standards upon another. Legislation should never be a means for doing this. Legislation should be the means by which, as timbrady just said, we are able to protect ourselves from each other. In other words, we should legislate to put the brakes on that human behavior which threatens or harms others. There is often a nexus between moral philosophy and law: "Thou shalt not kill." This is a moral principle, clearly, but it is a matter of law in our society not because of its moral imperative but because murder is an act that harms others. This is an important distinction, one which was recognized in the founding of the country. Theocracies legislate morality: a sin in religion is a crime in the state, with horrible results. I am now thinking of the Salem witch trials and the Taliban. Legislation must protect the life and the rights of the individual, not impose the moral philosophies of whatever group in society has the most influence at any given time.

timbrady eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I suspect that the answer to this question depends on where you think morality comes from.  That is a VERY long discussion.  In the short run, though, I do believe that the community has the right to set up standards of behavior/morality despite the difficulty of doing so.  It is fairly simple to legislate that pornography should not be made available in stores to children under a certain age.  Although it is more difficult to "legislate," I believe it is within the power of the state to define marriage and to define when a life begins (the gay issue and the abortion issue).  Someone, I suspect, should define when life begins.  If we could decide whether/when/if a fetus is/becomes a human life, then killing it for any purpose would be murder.  I think that part of the problem we have with this issue is society's inability to make that decision.

Because we live together, we have to have some standards that protect us against each other and provide some level of civility.  I think this should be kept to a minimum, but I can't see how it can be avoided in a less than perfect world.

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The Scarlet Letter, like you said, took place in a theocratical, Puritan society. Our modern society is based on a judeo-christian foundation. Both this and their society are basing their laws and regulations on the constitution upon which the based their societies. If these foundations were not part of the constitution of the society, then morality would not be condemned nor condoned. Since that is not the case, they do become part of what makes us as "citizens".

In reality, something that cannot be measured cannot be assessed properly, not (I believe firmly) judged accurately. The gray line is immense between what is ethical and what is seen as normal. Hence, nope, I disagree in that society should intervene in the choices one makes unless it is hurting it directly but since we are based on a judeo-christian (or, in the novel's case, in a Puritain) foundation, there is no other choice.

drmonica eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I believe that morality should only be legislated indirectly and as a result of it coinciding with a criminal issue. For example, it is against the law in every state for an adult to have sex with a child. This is not simply an issue of morality but of criminal conduct. Without any moral connotations attached to it, this activity is criminal on its face.

I have much more of a problem criminalizing activity that has no victim and that occurs between consenting adults. It makes no sense to me for the law to interfere in adult bedrooms. However, I also subscribe to the converse, that whatever consenting adults do in their own private lives does not deserve the protection of law beyond privacy rights. So while I am not in favor of sodomy laws, for example, I am also not in support of states' recognizing homosexual marriages as legal.

dalepowell1962 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In The Scarlet Letter, as is often seen today, it was not the out of wedlock sex; it was the production of a baby.  Ironically (but maybe not so much as we think) the issues of abortion and gay marriage deal with the failure to produce a baby.

Is it really possible to legislate morality?  By its very nature, the answer is "no"--we cannot legislate what people do- we may attempt to punish what they do or not do, but legislating morality has failed in EVERY instance thoughout history...American history and beyond.

To what extent should morality be legislated? It really cannot be.  There are and will always be attempts to do this, but the wise man has to know human nature,  Humans, like dogs, cats, rats, and goldfish, will do what they do---always- somethings do not change.

drmonica eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I disagree with herappleness's assessment that "if these foundations were not part of the constitution of the society, then morality would not be condemned nor condoned."

This statement is an example of the either/or fallacy. It presumes that morality is the sole domain of religion, which is not true. If an atheist saves someone's life, an act that is not required by law, does that mean that the atheist must therefore be religious? Of course not. Morality is obviously influenced strongly by religious teaching (and not just Judeo-Christian instruction), but it is not the sole purview of the religious.

M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

That is an accurate statement, but the sad reality is that morality continues to be unfortunately blended with religion which like you say, should not be. 

It is an undeniable fact, however, that our constitution was founded on a religious basis and this is (in my opinion) the reason why decisions on certain moral matters still can be taken to a court of law. That is unfortunate as well.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Well, I think that certain moral matters do need to be censured and controlled - we can't allow everyone to do exactly as they please in society. Someone could argue that abusing children was not a crime, but a natural expression of who they were. So, at some point, morality does need to be restricted. However, the issue is where we draw those boundary lines.

epollock | Student

It is a very complicated issue. When people legislate morality it is usually from the perspective that they legislate their values upon others thinking that their values are in the country's best interests.

When one looks at the issue of gay marriage, it generally stems from the fact that people in power have the value that the Bible says it should be between a man and a woman, and that is their interpretave value. Then, they try to legislate that value upon society thinking that a ban on gay marriage is in society's best interest.

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The Scarlet Letter

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