The topic of the day was “Ethics and the Law” The intersection of the thousands of local, national and international laws and each individual’s personal ethics is complex. Henry David Thoreau, though, had a clear vision. He said, “The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think is right.” He held that laws had no authority over his own set of morals.
The subjects that were discussed ranged from Jean Valjean, the hero of Les Miserables, who chose to violate a ‘just‘ law by stealing a loaf of bread to feed a starving child, to President Obama’s use of drones to assassinate suspected ‘terrorists’ and the NSA’s programs of electronic surveillance.
Business ethics were discussed including the behavior of corporations that operate within the letter of the law but manage to behave unethically. Examples discussed included the way some leading banks operated during the mortgage crisis and how some of their power traders managed to profit from power sales from uneconomic power plants.
The discussion was lively and included a wide range of views on the complexity of ethics and the law.
While just laws provide important guide lines, ethical behavior in government, business, and education and in each individual’s daily life is essential for an enlightened society.
Our conclusion: For a moral person, ethics trumps the law.
Do you agree? Or think there are examples where the rule of law trumps ethics? Leave your comments!