April 08, 2005

Moral Question

Under what cirucmstances is it okay to break the law? I don't mean jaywalking, or grand theft auto either, I mean something in between. No, I'm not thinking about committing some criminal act, but on another list I'm engaged in a debate about a specific act that some people regularly engage in, probably equivalent to stealing a pack of gum from the store. Which leads me to the question above because I'm curious as to what everyone else thinks.

Many laws are routinely violated because the consequences are not severe enough to warrant vigilance on the part of the authorities, so the crimes continue, sometimes right under a cops nose. (like jaywalking in most places) If they are enforced it is bound to be because either there is a major clean up in the area, or because the person arrested is suspected of another crime and this is the only way to hold them.

Other's are difficult to monitor; certainly something would be done if the authorities could, but the expense in catching the criminals outweighs the cost of the crime itself.

The quesiton really resolves around what makes us act in accordance with laws we may not fully embrace and what would cause us to act against them.

So again, under what circumstances would you violate a law?

Posted by Rachel Ann at April 8, 2005 07:19 AM

There are principles. I know that this isn't quite what you want, but not everything's worth getting arrested for, so I try to be careful.
When we came back from shlichut with our daughter #3 she was of the age of smallpox vaccinations. I refused to get her vaccinated, since I considered the law unwise/incompetant/out of date. A few months before there had been an announcement by the World Health Organization that the vaccinations were no longer recommended. All of the recent cases had been from labs, so my toddler didn't need it. I explained to the nurse in Tipat Chalav that soon she'd get notice to stop them, and then I'd follow her orders. She thought I was crazy (and dangerous), but I was right.

Posted by: muse at April 9, 2005 09:20 PM

I am not one to nibble grapes or grab a piece of loose candy in the supermarket. I consider that stealing although my Nana did that whenever she felt like it. A lot of people do.

What specifically are you talking about and then maybe I can help you?

Posted by: RobinP at April 9, 2005 10:30 PM

Let me clarify; the debate on my e-mail list is interesting, provactive and a learning experience; I don't want to repeat that paraticular debate here. What I do want to find out is what constitutes the moral underpinnings of various people. At one point would the violation of a law be "okay" in one's book? I'm not necessarily asking for specifics, but a more generalize accounting of how one believes one should act.

Posted by: Rachel Ann at April 10, 2005 05:14 AM

It is okay to break the law when it is morally necessary to do so. The clearest example of this I've ever come across is the hypothetical situation where you travelled back in time to 1920 and ran into an unemployed painter named Adolph. Do you kill him? Yes, you do. Against the law, yes. Morally necessary, definitely.

Laws that are instituted morality may also be broken. Examples of these would be smoking marijuana, allowing your teenage child to drink a beer under your supervision, having sex while unmarried or in any number of prohibited ways. These are items that are illegal only because they have been made illegal. They are an imposition of morality rather than an acceptance of common moral firmament.

Posted by: Jim at April 18, 2005 04:56 PM
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