Right or Wrong to Break the Law

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Updated: Apr 30, 2024
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Right or Wrong to Break the Law

This essay will delve into the ethical considerations of breaking the law, discussing scenarios where civil disobedience might be justified and the moral complexities involved. On PapersOwl, there’s also a selection of free essay templates associated with Civil Disobedience.

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Is it ever right to break the law? Imagine being abused and beat every day and the only way to save your life and your children’s life is to kill your abusive husband or imagine having to enter a country illegally because if you don’t, you’ll be killed. Socrates claims that it is never right to break the law no matter what it is. Martin Luther, on the other hand, believes the opposite and justifies this claim in “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

In Plato’s Crito, Socrates claims that no matter what, it is never right to break the law.

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Socrates is wrongfully imprisoned and waiting to be executed, Crito is offering Socrates a chance to escape the jail and escape the death penalty but Socrates refuses. Socrates does not see the point in escaping jail if when he gets out, he will live the rest of his life hiding and running in order to stay alive. Socrates rather be satisfied with the life he lived and die now than to live and be miserable like he would be if he escaped, he says, “that the most important thing is not life, but the good life.” Socrates also states “Do we say that one must never in any way do wrong willingly, or must one do wrong in one way and not in another? Is to do wrong never good or admirable, as we have agreed in the past, or have all these former agreements been washed out during the last few days?” Crito agrees to this statement that doing wrong can never be justified. Socrates also says, “One should never do wrong in return, nor do any man harm, no matter what he may have done to you.” Socrates does not believe in revenge, if someone did you wrong it is not right to get revenge and do wrong in return, it is thought that revenge is done with malicious intentions, unlike justice. Socrates believes he should not escape the prison and that laws shouldn’t be broken because this would harm the city-state. He believes that when there is a contract entered with the state one is morally obligated to fulfill it and if not it’s an injustice to the city “Tell me, Socrates, what are you intending to do? Do you not by this action you are attempting to intend to destroy us, the laws, and indeed the whole city, as far as you are concerned? Or do you think that it is possible for a city not to be destroyed if the verdicts of its courts have no force but are nullified and set at naught by private individuals?” He supposes the city would be destroyed if the laws that are set weren’t followed. Not following these laws would be considered unjust in his views because he would be decreasing the effectiveness or power of the laws and therefore imposing harm on the city.

In “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” King supports peaceful nonviolent protest as a form of civil disobedience. He was imprisoned for assembling without a permit while he protested against violence and discrimination against African Americans. King states, “One may well ask: How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others? The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that an unjust law is no law at all.” He believes that laws that are just are man-made codes that square or agree with the moral law or the law of God, they uplift human personality. Unjust laws are not in agreement with the moral law they degrade human personality and therefore morally it is right to disobey them. “An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal he is also stating that unjust laws are put upon minorities by the majority and the majority itself does not follow.” The majority that sets these unjust laws upon the minorities do not follow the laws themselves. King believes that people affected by laws that are not in accordance with morality have the ethical right to disobey them.

I believe that as King says there are some laws that are unjust, they degrade human personality, or they have to be broken in order for you to save your life. For example, Francine Hughes who had to kill her violent husband, in the article from History.com it states, “Mickey had beaten Francine in front of their children, ripped up textbooks from her secretarial courses, and then forced her to have sex with him, threatening to kill her.” The article says “She stood watching the fire, then turned and entered the car where three of her children cowered in fear. Then she drove herself to authorities and turned herself in.” the law against murder is not an unjust one, but Francine saw herself forced to break it in order to save her life and her children’s life. King believes that “One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.” This shows respect for the law in that one does not run away and hides but shows the people that this law had to be changed and was unjust. the article states “Francine did not know it, but she was about to become a central figure in what is now known as the battered women’s movement, which worked to draw attention to the plight of women who were brutalized by their husbands—but were rarely taken seriously by America’s justice system. By turning the national attention received by tragic cases like Francine’s into ways to help women like her, the movement created a system of life-saving shelters, laying the foundation for a modern awareness of domestic violence.” Francine’s actions helped make a change and helped women who are being abused find a place to go so that they can get help and their situation does not worsen as Francine’s did. There have been many unjust laws throughout history that have needed to be broken in order for some change to be made and this process will keep on going on.

Whether it’s right or wrong to break the law is a very controversial topic but in all breaking can be justified in certain circumstances. Some laws inhibit individuals from being able to succeed or get out of dangerous situations like it affected Francis. There are laws that protect us and some that prevent people from reaching their full potential or arete. Breaking these laws can be justified if it’s done in order to hopefully make a change to the injustices. If breaking a law is not done maliciously and done to hurt someone intentionally but instead to make a change for the better, it can be justified. I believe that as king says that taking the blame for breaking a law to prove that a change needs to be done is the greatest respect shown to it.

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Right Or Wrong To Break the Law. (2021, Mar 08). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/right-or-wrong-to-break-the-law/