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 IAmAnAtheist » Should I Obey the Law?

Should I Obey the Law?


If a law is wrong, it’s okay to break it.

Q1 Analysis

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.

Q2 Analysis

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 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.

Posted on October 26, 2010 at 9:40 pm by ideclare · Permalink
In: 2Q

3 Responses

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  1. Written by NFQ
    on October 27, 2010 at 12:51 pm
    Reply · Permalink

    Regarding the issue of breaking the law in protest … I think there is a big difference between saying, “I think this law is unjust so I will take on personal burdens in the course of showing society how unjust this is,” and “I think this law is stupid so I shouldn’t have to follow it and I shouldn’t get in trouble for breaking it.” Yes, the point of a law banning a particular action is to stop that action, but at some point it is really about cost/benefit analysis. The idea is that for most people, the additional cost of punishment outweighs the benefits of the action. But if you think a law is unjust and shouldn’t be on the books, then maybe for you the benefit of moving towards more just laws justifies the cost of being punished. And of course — that involves *getting punished*, at least in the short term.

  2. Written by sandra
    on October 28, 2010 at 10:45 am
    Reply · Permalink

    Good food for thought. I cannot say I don’t break laws I think are stupid like the “California Stop”, were instead of stopping for 3 seconds, you sorta roll though slowly.

    I think it is stupid because we don’t all have a synchronized 3 second watch build in so that we do know 3 seconds is actually 3 seconds.

    I do take into account the possibility of there being a fast moving veridical or children around etc. but who is going to try and change the 3 second rule as if 5 seconds would make a difference?

    I think those rules are really ‘breaking the law’ but meant as a means to get you to be cautious even though people do get tickets for them. Then it sucks.

    Anyways, as a general rule for myself, I do actually follow rules because I think most are meant to keep you and others safe but we don’t always break them on purpose.

    I got a warning driving through an apartment complex where the speed limit is 5mph. I was pulled over in my parking space and told I was speeding.

    I was actually baffled since the speedometer doesn’t have a 5 mph marker on it yet I was going about 7 or something but less then 10.

    Now, I forgot where I was going with this. lol But no, I am not stickler for an exact measurement of the law because there is the iffies and the WTFAYD?

    People who speed through stop signs, are obviously going to fast through a residential zone… things were it is so obvious and dangerous that letting it slide is just asking waiting for disaster.

    • Written by sandra
      on October 28, 2010 at 11:14 am
      Reply · Permalink

      Also I just wanted to also note that even if a person stopped fully for three seconds at a stop sign like a good law abiding citizen would and a car was speeding down the street that you still didn’t see, who’s to say that you wouldn’t have gotten the same result with a California roll through?

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