Should I Obey the Law?
If a law is wrong, it’s okay to break it.
This is not a Q1 violation unless your criteria for determining when a law is wrong is in conflict with other beliefs or (possibly) you believe that some laws should be obeyed just because they are laws.
This is not a Q2 violation unless you would condemn others for breaking a law for the same reason you would break one.
This is another example of a moral position that many people will agree with without carefully considering its limits and implications.
For example, let’s say you believe that it is silly to have to stop at a stop sign if no other cars are present. Is this a defensible philosophical position? Things to consider include how sure you can be that no other cars are present (that is, might a car be approaching quickly and not be apparent until it is too late) and whether cars are all that need to be taken into consideration (bicyclists and pedestrians, for example, might assume that cars will stop at a stop sign). Also, if a police officer sees you run a stop sign, do you feel that this philosophical position should be a reasonable defense? If you think it should be, then perhaps you would be better off trying to get the law changed than breaking the law. But before doing so, you must consider whether or not you would hold responsible someone who ran into your car because they didn’t see you and ran a stop sign.
Before deciding that a law is wrong, you should be confident that you know the purpose and effects of the law. For example, let’s say that a college dormitory cafeteria requires prepayment of meal funds for the semester, and that it has a policy that food must not be taken from the cafeteria. You think the "no taking food" policy is foolish and always put an apple in your pocket after dinner to use as a snack later in the night. You feel that if the cafeteria really wanted to keep track of food eaten, they should just charge according to how much you order (like a restaurant), and that way you could pay to take extra food if you wanted to.
But why does the cafeteria have this plan in place instead of using the restaurant system? Perhaps they are trying to limit the amount of food in the dormitory proper for health reasons. Perhaps they are trying to limit food waste. Or perhaps past experience has shown them that students who have to pay for their meals one at a time sometimes get into trouble at the end of the month before the monthly check from their parents comes, so the prepaid-food system is a good way to ensure that nobody in the dorm goes without food.
Of course, there are times that you may be able to justify breaking a law for political reasons, because the law is truly wrong, or as part of a protest. Which (if any) of these actions would you consider moral?
- You teach a forbidden subject in public school because you want to use your arrest as a way to make the court consider the constitutionality of the law.
- You know there’s an old law against operating a motor vehicle on a Sunday, but it’s so antiquated that nobody obeys it.
- You are part of an environmental group, illegally blocking bulldozers from operating on land where endangered animals live.
- You break into a laboratory and free animals that are being used in medical tests.
- You trespass on the property of an exclusive country club that does not allow members of your race, and use passive resistance techniques to remain on the property.
- You use a fake ID to buy beer because you’re old enough to make your own decisions even if the law says you’re underage.
- You "help" your grandmother fill out her absentee ballot so that you can adjust her votes to be more in tune with the times.
- You do your own electrical work at home but cut some corners because keeping everything up to code would be expensive and inconvenient.
- The law says that you and your partner can’t do certain things in the bedroom, but you do them anyway because it’s nobody’s business but yours.
You are encouraged to leave your answers to the questions posed in this post in the comments section. This post is based on an excerpt from Ask Yourself to be Moral, by D. Cancilla, available at LuLu.com and Amazon.com. See the 2Q system page for details of the philosophical system mentioned in this post.