Illegal refers to something that is prohibited by law, while unlawful means something that goes against accepted principles of morality or justice. Violating either one can result in consequences from society and/or legal repercussions, so it’s essential to be aware of both concepts and think twice before breaking any laws.

Definition of illegal

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“Illegal” refers to something that is against the law, prohibited, or not authorized by legal authorities. It can refer to a wide range of activities or behaviors that are considered unlawful, such as theft, assault, drug possession or trafficking, tax evasion, or trespassing. The exact definition of what is considered illegal may vary depending on the country, state or jurisdiction, and can be defined by both criminal and civil laws.

Definition of unlawful

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“Unlawful” refers to any action or behavior that is not permitted or authorized by law, regulation, or legal authority. It can include a wide range of activities, such as violating a contract, breaking a city ordinance, or committing a crime. An act can be unlawful even if it is not necessarily criminal. For example, if a person violates a civil law or regulation, such as a traffic law or environmental regulation, it can be considered unlawful. The term “unlawful” is often used synonymously with “illegal,” although the latter term typically refers to actions that are specifically prohibited by criminal law.

Illegal Vs. Unlawful – Key differences

“Unlawful” is often used interchangeably with “illegal.” However, there is a subtle but important distinction between the two terms. Something that is illegal is always unlawful, but something that is unlawful may not necessarily be illegal.

The best way to understand the difference between “illegal” and “unlawful” is to think of laws as a set of rules. Breaking any of these rules is considered unlawful. Some of these rules may be written down in a formal document, such as a contract or law, while others may be unwritten rules based on tradition or custom. So, if you do something that goes against one of these unwritten rules, you can still be considered unlawful, even if what you did isn’t technically illegal.

Here’s an example: let’s say there’s a company policy that employees can’t take more than two sick days in a row. If an employee takes three sick days in a row, they’ve broken the company’s rule and are therefore considered unlawful. However, this isn’t technically illegal since there’s no law saying employees can only take two sick days in a row.

Another example, jaywalking is an illegal activity because it breaks the law. However, there are many activities that are not in accordance with the law but are not technically illegal. For instance, cheating on your taxes or speeding on the highway are both considered unlawful but not necessarily illegal.

Of course, there are also many cases where something can be both illegal and unlawful. For instance, murder is illegal under criminal law and also goes against societal norms, so it would be considered both illegal and unlawful.

The best way to remember the difference between illegal and unlawful is that illegal always has to do with breaking the law, while unlawful can refer to any activity that goes against the law (even if it doesn’t technically break it).

Is illicit the same as illegal?

Yes, “illicit” and “illegal” generally have the same meaning and are often used interchangeably to refer to actions that are prohibited by law. Both terms refer to actions that are not authorized or permitted by legal authorities, and can include a wide range of activities such as drug use, theft, fraud, or trespassing.

However, “illicit” may sometimes imply a more negative connotation than “illegal” and suggest an additional element of immorality or wrongdoing. For example, an “illicit affair” or “illicit business” may suggest that the activity is not only against the law, but also socially unacceptable or morally wrong. Nonetheless, both terms generally refer to actions that are considered to be against the law.

What are examples of illegal and unlawful

Possession of drugsTrespassing on another person's property without their permission
Selling drugsStealing someone's personal belongings
Manufacturing drugsCommitting vandalism or destruction of public property
Trafficking drugsBurglary or breaking and entering into a home or business
Possession of a firearm without a licenseAssault or battery against another person
Carrying a concealed weapon without a permitEngaging in prostitution or solicitation
Using a firearm in the commission of a crimePossessing, using, selling, or distributing illegal drugs
BurglaryDriving under the influence of alcohol or drugs

Are all illegal acts immoral?

Not necessarily. While many illegal acts are also considered to be morally wrong, not all illegal acts are necessarily immoral.

Morality is a complex and subjective concept that can vary depending on cultural, social, and personal beliefs. What one person considers to be immoral, another may not. For example, laws regarding drugs, gambling, or prostitution may be viewed as immoral by some, but others may argue that such activities are personal choices that do not necessarily harm others.

In addition, there may be situations where breaking the law is considered a moral duty or a justified act. For instance, in some cases of civil disobedience, individuals may intentionally break the law to protest against perceived injustice or to protect human rights. In such cases, breaking the law may be seen as a moral obligation rather than an immoral act.

Ultimately, whether or not an illegal act is immoral depends on a range of contextual factors, including cultural, social, and personal beliefs, as well as the specific circumstances surrounding the act itself.

What crimes are immoral?

Determining which crimes are immoral is a complex and subjective matter, as morality can vary depending on cultural, social, and personal beliefs. However, some crimes are generally considered to be immoral by many people, including:

Murder: Taking another person’s life is widely considered to be a grave moral wrong, and is prohibited by law in nearly all societies.

Rape: Sexual assault or rape is a serious violation of another person’s bodily autonomy and is widely considered to be immoral.

Child abuse: Any form of physical or emotional harm inflicted on a child is considered to be deeply immoral and is prohibited by law in most societies.

Human trafficking: The exploitation of another person’s labor or sexual services through force or coercion is a violation of basic human rights and is considered to be immoral.

Fraud: Deceiving others for financial gain or personal advantage is widely considered to be dishonest and immoral, and is illegal in most societies.

It is important to note that the moral implications of a crime can vary depending on the specific circumstances surrounding the act, as well as cultural, social, and personal beliefs. Some people may view certain actions, such as drug use or prostitution, as morally permissible, while others may consider them to be immoral.

Can something be unlawful but still morally right?

Yes, it is possible for something to be unlawful but still morally right in certain circumstances.

Laws are created by legal authorities and are based on a range of factors, such as public safety, social values, and cultural norms. However, laws are not always perfect and may not always align with personal or societal moral values. In some cases, an individual may find themselves in a situation where the law prohibits a certain action, but they believe that the action is morally justifiable.

For example, civil disobedience is a form of peaceful protest in which individuals intentionally break the law to bring attention to an unjust law or government action. In these cases, the individuals breaking the law may believe that they are acting in accordance with their moral principles, despite the fact that they are breaking the law.

Similarly, in some countries, certain actions that are considered morally right by some people, such as providing medical aid to undocumented immigrants or supporting LGBTQ+ rights, may be unlawful due to the prevailing legal and social norms. In these cases, individuals may act in accordance with their moral values, even if it means breaking the law.

The relationship between legality and morality is complex, and whether or not an action is considered morally right or wrong may depend on a range of contextual factors, including cultural, social, and personal beliefs.


Featured Image By – Alexa from Pixabay

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