Friday, February 02, 2007

Disobeying Unjust Laws*

Question: Which sorts of laws, if any, may one justly disobey? If one does disobey a law, must one do so openly?

A law may be justly disobeyed, even publicly, under certain warranting circumstances.

Only those laws that prevent harm to society should be invoked to violate the rights of the individual. It may also be considered that self-inflicted harm, to the extent that it would be detrimental to society if an individual hurt himself or herself, is a valid reason to suspend rights. Such curbing of rights serves to increase our happiness and liberty by guiding society away from destructive ends. On the other hand, a law that violates another’s rights which does not have such permission and is not for this stated purpose can be broken justly, and, if it pertains to the expression or manifestation of freedom, it may be as much a matter of justice as it is preservation of liberty to do so in public display. However, it is entirely possible to make a point by intentionally and knowingly breaking the law privately, and merely admitting as much in public.

Deviant behaviour can be defined as that which goes against accepted social mores. It is as much the role of society as it is the individual in determining the limits of behaviour of the individual. Social mores are relevant only in the time period and common cultural attitudes of the society and therefore can be ignored (publicly or privately).

Our rights as humans grant us authority over a wider range of activity, including deviant behaviour, than our accepted social mores. Individual choices and actions take precedent over social mores and laws but not over the rights of others. When the expression of freedom curtails that of another individual, it is no longer a right. Some social mores and laws can certainly violate the rights of humans and in such cases disobeying them would be a demonstration of liberty more so than a show of defiance. It should not be treated as if the law is false and deserves to be broken, but that it simply did not exist and apply at all in the first place.

*I will probably be filling this blog with these Plato essays as I write them.



Blogger Delta said...

In my opinion, any law which is not moral (and of course this definition varies from person to person) can be defied, either publicly or privately. If one is a member of a group and one agrees that they will abide by the rules made by some governing body, then in this instance it may be "immoral" to defy a law from a body that you said that you would abide by. Of course the bodies that make our laws do not deserve such respect, since we didn't agree to their rule nor do we have much influence in what laws they make.

I think the question of morality is a tricky one though. I don't think there is an objective morality, which is why I put words like "moral" and "good" in quotes. There are certainly actions and things in this world which I consider "good", and loosely speaking I would consider them moral. I may also try to project these ideas onto others, and judge them by the standards that I'd like to see in the world. But in any case, I never assume that it is objectively correct, but simply the way that I'd like the world to be.

03 February, 2007 13:44  
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