Civil Disobedience: Are We Morally Obliged to Obey Unjust Laws?

1913 Words8 Pages
Are we morally obliged to obey even unjust laws? This moral question addresses what we commonly know as civil disobedience. In order to properly discuss civil disobedience and whether or not it is moral to disobey laws, we must first characterize civil disobedience. In Peter Singer's book, Practical Ethics he begins to characterize civil disobedience as arising from "ethical disagreement" and raising the question of whether "to uphold the law, even if the law protects and sanctions things we hold utterly wrong?" (Singer 292). Henry David Thoreau wrote an essay entitled Civil Disobedience that was published in 1854 in the collection of essays called Walden; or Life in the Woods. Thoreau first wrote of civil disobedience in opposition…show more content…
Committing one violent act lessens the resistance to another violent act (Singer 310). There are other arguments for specific types of violence, but we are talking about civil disobedience, not violent disobedience. We must first discuss why we should obey laws to begin with. Singer gives two arguments in favor of obeying laws. He explains that first; people do not voluntarily refrain from hurting others so we need laws to deal with these matters. Secondly, we must have some kind of machinery to deal with the lawbreakers (Singer 296). Singer also reminds us that these two arguments for obeying law are neither universally applicable nor conclusive (Singer 297). Civil disobedience itself can be viewed the same way. It must be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. There are rules as to what civil disobedience is, but there is no clear-cut universal answer in deciding to be civilly disobedient (Singer 297). Civil disobedience is about purposefully disobeying a law or rule to make a point, to try and change laws and rules in a specific situation, and is disobedience that is executed in a non-violent manner. Having characterized civil disobedience we can now discuss reasons for why people may act civilly disobedient. Singer explains that there are reasons to obey established laws, and the reason to obey is stronger when the law is established in a democratic manner and represents a majority view. However there

More about Civil Disobedience: Are We Morally Obliged to Obey Unjust Laws?

Open Document