UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Lord devlin on the politics of enforcing morality Simpson, Douglas B


The purpose of this thesis is to explore Lord Devlin's approach to the enforcement of morals. The morals in question are those which are widely recognized as being held in common by particular groups of people and constitutes the morality of the society to which they belong. The enforcement is that coercion which society is able to bring to bear upon the individual, above and beyond that which inheres naturally in a social morality. Lord Devlin argues that the enforcement of this morality is not in any way dependent upon a moral appraisal of the morality itself: a consideration of its moral fitness for enforcement. Such considerations are rejected by Devlin as being an unacceptable manner of governing the enforcement of a society's morality. His critics, arguing the opposite, have attempted to show that, for various reasons, it is not acceptable for government to defer in such an uncritical fashion to the morality it is attempting to enforce. However, Devlin's critics tend to exaggerate and misinterpret the principle which underlies his approach to the enforcement of morals. They falsely assume that Devlin sees value in nothing other than the enforcement of a society's morality. In reality, Devlin believes that many values may need to be balanced against this one. This is the essence of a practical or political approach to the enforcement of morals, and it can only succeed if society is entitled to exclude from its politics certain considerations: those which deny that the enforcement of a society's morality has no value independent of the other values with which it competes. Devlin's focus on the politics of the enforcement of morality has certain similarities with the more contemporary concern of some with moral neutrality in politics.

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