San Diego Law Review

Library of Congress Authority File


Document Type

Legal Moralism


Should the law interfere with individual choices and actions that cause no harm to others but that are regarded as wrong? Is it permissible for the law to restrain individual freedom not for the sake of preventing harm to others but in order to prevent people from performing immoral deeds or from debasing or harming themselves? Doubtless that is the purpose of some laws, although it is not always easy to tell which and to what extent, since most laws pursue, or can be interpreted to pursue, a variety of goals. Standard examples of moralist legislation, such as the criminalization of bigamy, and of paternalist legislation, such as bans on the sale of body parts, may with more or less ingenuity be construed as measures taken to prevent harm to others. It seems indeed that it is not so easy to isolate obvious cases of laws uniquely infused with moralist or paternalist concerns.

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