Should I Obey the Law? (Part 2)
It’s okay to break the law in extreme circumstances.
This is not a Q1 violation unless your criteria for determining what constitutes an extreme circumstance are in conflict with other beliefs or (possibly) if you believe that some laws should be obeyed just because they are laws.
This is not a Q2 violation if you will allow others to break laws in what they think are extreme circumstances.
There are times when it can be argued with relative ease that obeying morality overrides an obligation to obey the law. For example, it is clearly morally allowable to trespass into someone’s back yard for the purposes of saving a drowning child.
How extremely dire a circumstance must be before criminal action is allowed must be rigorously defined. For example, it can be argued that stealing to save your family from starving is allowable when there is truly no other alternative. But you would be hard-pressed to argue effectively that if you didn’t shoplift the new Metallica CD you would curl up and die.
It should be noted that being morally allowed to break the law does not free you from having to pay the legal penalty for your actions. Courts may be lenient in the face of extenuating circumstances, but they are not required to be. Of course, if your family is in such dire need that you must embezzle from your employer, then it is in such dire need that you should be willing to embezzle no matter what the consequences may be. For this reason, it is important to make sure that you are breaking the law because there is truly no other choice, not because you think you can get away with it.
In which (if any) of these situations would you feel morally justified to break the law?
- You can only avoid hitting a child with your car by swerving down a one-way street in the wrong direction.
- You’re pretty drunk, but you got a panicked call from the baby-sitter and have to drive home in a hurry.
- If you don’t speed, you might not be able to get your nephew to the hospital in time to save his life.
- A man with a gun is running from police officers. He’s got a large lead, but you could stop him by hitting him with your car.
- Smoking marijuana is illegal, but it’s the only thing that relieves the pain of your terminal cancer.
- You know it’s illegal to punch people, but this guy just said that your "Jewish hat" looks stupid and Hitler was "cool."
- If you report to the government that your grandmother is dead, they will stop sending her Social Security checks and you won’t be able to afford to keep the house.
- Gambling is against the law, but your boss has asked you to participate in a Superbowl pool. If you refuse, he might think you’re not a team player.
- It’s against the law to pirate music, but the album’s been out of print for 40 years.
- The only way you’ll ever be able to afford a designer purse is to buy a counterfeit one.
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.