ISSUE-63

Claim: Many problems of modern society cannot be solved by laws and the legal system.

Reason: Laws cannot change what is in people's hearts or minds.


Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the claim and the reason on which that claim is based.



A complete and fair legal system is the hallmark of modern civilized society. Yet, can laws alone solve all the problem of modern society? Some argue that because people’s hearts and minds cannot be changed by laws, it is inconceivable that the legal system is capable of solving all societal issues. From my point of view, laws can indeed change what’s in people’s minds, but still, laws alone are not sufficient to solve all the problems due to other reasons.


To begin with, laws can indeed change what’s in people’s hearts and minds. This is because laws will have a direct, persistent impact on our behavior; in turn, our modified behavior will be able to influence our thoughts. Take universal suffrage in the United States as an example. In the past, only white males had the ability to vote, which people took for granted. Women and non-white citizens, however, were barred from exerting their political rights because of the prevailing thought back then that they are inferior to white males. Then with the success of universal suffrage, women and colored people earned the legal rights to vote. Along with other laws aimed to erase sexist and racist discriminations, the thought that white males are superior to everybody else has become largely obsolete. Here, a set of laws managed to change people’s minds.


Nevertheless, even though what’s in people’s minds and hearts can be altered by laws, it does not necessarily imply that all problems that the modern society is faced with can be tackled by laws. The first reason is that, laws, by and large, can only prohibit people from doing certain things. They cannot, on the other hand, force people to actively act in certain ways. If such a problem arises from a lack of action, there is little that the legal system can do. For example, it is often encouraged that parents send their children for higher education, but laws cannot force them to do so. As a result, the problem of lacking well-trained work force in the high-tech sector becomes a challenge that society faces and that laws cannot solve.


Additionally, the argument that laws can change our minds and hearts by keeping people from carrying out certain deeds relies on the assumption that people are always rational. That is, before committing a crime, the criminal must be able to evaluate the consequences of breaking the laws. Yet, this assumption does not always hold true, and when one’s reason and logic are overwhelmed by emotions and other strong motives, problems can still occur. The most recent tragic shooting in New Zealand is a clear example. The shooter is fully aware of the legal charges to be raised against him, and yet he still chose to commit the atrocity based on his fanatic religious belief. Apparently the case of New Zealand shooting demonstrates that laws cannot defeat at least religious extremism yet.


To summarize, I do agree that laws are not the silver bullets to all the societal issues we are faced today because laws are largely prohibitive and people are not always rational. That being said, we cannot underestimate the power of laws in shaping people’s minds. Looking at the history one could find ample examples in which what’s in people hearts and minds has been changed by laws.

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