Ethics of Civil Disobedience

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Ethics of Civil Disobedience

Ban animal cruelty! Give aid to the poor! Save the rainforests! Obey the law! As a human race we must strive to fulfill these commands, for they are our moral duties and obligations. Our obligation to morality sometimes leads to a dilemma. What happens when a law contradicts the morally right thing to do? Would it be moral to act illegally by breaking the law? No matter how drastic the measure, we are still required to act morally--even if one must break the law to do so. But why is it so important to be moral that one could justify something as serious as breaking the law?

If morality is so significant that one could justify breaking the law we must consider the importance of being moral in the first place. The question “Why be moral?” is difficult for many philosophers to answer. Just by our attempt to answer this question we would already be displaying the need to act morally. This is more clearly seen with the difficulty is asking a similar type of question, “Why act rationally?” According to Singer many philosophers reject the question “Why act morally?” because it is parallel to this question of acting rationally. It would take rationality to explain why one should act rationally. Thus defeating the need to explain the importance of rationality in the first place. “…it needs no justification, because it cannot be intelligibly questioned unless it is already presupposed” (Singer 316). Similarly “why be moral?” asks for a moral reason to act morally.

Modern Kantianism considers acting rationally to be the same as acting ethically. If this is true, one could rationalize a need that is in their own self interest, yet at the same time against the interest of another individual. Since this c...

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... is the only means of preventing greater violence would be responsible for the greater violence they fail to prevent” (Singer 307). Pacifism can be seen in the same way as the omission approach to euthanasia. Although you are not directly killing, by refusing to step in you are allowing to die. Since the ends can justify the means, even something as radical as violently breaking the law can be the moral thing to do.

Above all we desire a meaning to life. We can find meaning by acting morally. Therefore, one is not obligated to obey a law that contradicts morality. After all, it would be morally wrong of the government to deny anyone meaning in life.

Works Cited

* Singer, Peter. Practical Ethics, 2nd edition. 1993. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

* Rachels, James. “The Elements of Moral Philosophy,” Fourth Edition. McGraw Hill, New York, 2003.

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