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How to write a discursive law and morality essay

An essay on law and morality is discursive, rather than argumentative, although there is plenty of scope for argument. In this law and morality essay, you should discuss the links that exist between the law and morality or ethics.

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Societies have their lawmakers write laws that can go on statute books. They should be just, moral and uphold society’s values and beliefs. However, when a society is corrupt its laws will reflect this. It is this point that might be used to write an argumentative essay about the connection between law and morality.

Our laws haven’t changed much in essence since Biblical times. Here is a list of the ten commandments or laws which were given to Moses:

  • The first commandment was that God was the only god that the Israelite should have and worship.
  • The second leads on from this, as it specifies that as God’s chosen people they should not make or worship idols.
  • Once again, the third commandment is about god, as it states that God’s name should not be misused, in other words blasphemy was outlawed.
  • Next the Israelites were told to keep the Sabbath day holy, which basically meant the unlike on other days, God should be worshipped, and people could have a day free of work.
  • The first moral commandment is an injunction to honour and respect one’s parents.
  • The sixth commandment is that we shouldn’t kill or murder.
  • The next enjoined people not to commit adultery, but to be faithful to their spouses.
  • The eighth commandment is one that is enshrined in all law books, namely, you mustn’t steal.
  • The ninth commandment urges people not to lie about others (especially, presumably, in court), and this is taken to mean all others, although it specifically mentions neighbours.
  • The final law or commandment is that we shouldn’t want or desire what someone else has. This might be a person, property and other possessions.

The commandments that refer to God are no longer in existence, at least in the Western world. However, we still have the others, although, perhaps the one about adultery is quite often ignored by people of both genders. Adultery is a common ground for divorce.

It is probably fair to say that all countries have laws that forbid people to take the life of another, although this happens in wars when laws are forgotten, at least temporarily. However, at the cessation of wars, international tribunals and courts punish those responsible for genocide, rape and so on are brought to justice.

Laws have been designed to uphold morality and ethics. A society without morality would be degenerate and would probably not survive for long if lawlessness reigned. This has to be stated clearly in an essay of this sort. Laws are intended to maintain the status quo and protect those who are unable, for whatever reason, to protect themselves, the disabled (physically and mentally), the elderly and the infirm.

However, there are people who hold the view that we don’t need laws if we are moral. That could be a source of argument in this particular essay. The argument is that if we have ethics, there should be no reason to have laws. On the other hand, anarchy could ensue, and society would disintegrate. The law is in place to act as a deterrent to people with criminal tendencies. Fear of punishment can prevent crimes being committed. The idea of a jail sentence is often enough to deter people from committing a crime, especially a serious one such as murder.

When writing this essay, you need to take a stance and be able to back up your views with good, solid arguments. For example, decide whether you are for or against the death penalty and come up with arguments to justify your opinion. Make notes that you can use in the essay.

Think about the following points:

  • How do you feel about the laws of your country?
  • Could they be improved?
  • Do you think that it is necessary to have laws that cover criminal acts?
  • What criminal acts should be punished?
  • Should there be a death penalty as there still is in some states in the USA?


  • No one, including a state, should kill another person.
  • The death penalty is barbaric however it is carried out.
  • If the death penalty is carried out and later new evidence is found to prove that the person killed was innocent, there is little that can be done, apart from offering an apology and compensation to the victim’s family.
  • If a would-be murderer is in a highly emotional state, no deterrent would prevent him or her from committing murder.
  • Murderers need psychiatric help, not punishment and/or death.


  • Depending on the circumstances surrounding a murder, the murderer might feel vindicated in having committed the murder and feel no remorse. In such a scenario he or she might kill again, especially if that person believes that they have got away with murder. Think of the serial killers, Ted Bundy, who killed at least 35 people, Fred West and his wife, Rosemary, who murdered at least 12 people, the doctor Harold Shipman, who was found guilty of 15 murders, although he might have committed more.
  • If murder becomes a habit, then the murderer should receive the death penalty as they have lost their morality. This makes them a threat to society.
  • People who favour capital punishment believe in retribution and ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ in other words if you take a life, your life should be forfeited.
  • Some think that keeping a murderer in prison is a waste of the state’s money. It’s cheaper to kill the murderer.

A discursive essay should be neutral. Although the writer may hold very strong opinions about the essay topic, these should not be couched in emotive words. It is always a good idea to have an outline of an essay before you start writing it. You should make notes of points to include and ensure that you write a balanced essay. You have to write an unbiased essay, carefully presenting both sides of the coin. Whatever you do, don’t give in to your emotional responses to the subject or you will be penalised for ranting.

The outline should begin with a you clearly defining the topic and deciding whether you are for or against the proposition contained in its title.

The outline, or model, should have a clear first paragraph which introduces the topic to be discussed in the essay.

You need to have points in the main body which you have thought about very carefully. In your outline these can be in bullet points, but it isn’t usual to use these in>b a formal discursive essay. Generally, you’ll need three or four main points, both for and against, to produce a balanced argument. The points should start with the strongest one for the topic and the next paragraph should refute the point you made. Continue in this way until you have exhausted your list of arguments, ending with the weakest.

In the conclusion you need to state your point of view and explain your reasons for holding it.

Tips for writing a formal essay

  • Use the third person pronoun in the essay so that it remains formal Use phrases such as ‘It is said...’, or it is believed rather than ‘I believe’ until you write your conclusion.
  • Don’t use elision, e.g. ‘it’s’, write ‘it is’ in full.
  • Each point should be in a separate paragraph and each paragraph should have a topic sentence. This keeps your writing on track.
  • Each point made should be accompanied by your reasons for including it and examples.
  • Link your ideas with careful sequencing and appropriate linking words and phrases.
  • Cite your sources to avoid being accused of plagiarism. It is very important to attribute paragraphs and so on the relevant author.
  • If you use statistics, make sure they are appropriately referenced.

If you are writing the essay for assessment purposes you should do research and make notes of sources, you can cite in the essay. Reputable sources can be academic publications, the quality press, or magazines such as The Economist, New Statesman and so on. Generally, avoid quotations from the more sensational tabloids. Use the British newspapers, The Times and the Guardian or the US Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.

Don’t quote from Wikipedia, or any other Wiki site without checking that this is permissible. Many academic institutions don’t accept the validity of the information contained in Wikis. Some of the information is very good, but not all of it has been thoroughly checked by editors.

It is worth noting that you really shouldn’t use personal examples in a discursive essay. Instead use examples for your reading on the topic.

Remember that one of the purposes of writing a discursive essay to have the reader accept the validity of your point of view.

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