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PHILOS 1B03 (369)

Feinberg & Civil Disobedience

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McMaster University
David Goutor

Civil Disobedience March 3, 2014 - The deliberate breaking of the law for the purpose of addressing an injustice, or what is perceived to be an injustice, in an otherwise reasonably just society - When can the citizen have the right to break the law based on his/her moral convictions? • Is the individual morally justified in engaging in acts of disobedience against the state? - The general idea of civil disobedience has been around since at least the Greeks but was terminologically introduced by the American thinker Henry David Thoreau in 1849 as the title of a short essay - In ‘Civil Disobedience’, Thoreau argued that private citizen should consider himself morally responsible for the actions he commits on the behalf of his government - It is morally justifiable for the individual to act in the contravention of the law if the law stands in opposition to one’s moral convictions - Thoreau refused to pay taxes and wrote the essay in jail, one day and one night What Civil Disobedience is NOT 1. It is not ordinary law-breaking • Civil disobedience requires that an action be done from certain motives only, not like normal motives when a crime is done, like personal gain 2. It is not an attempt to overthrow an entire regime • Action committed by citizens who belong to reasonably just societies and who therefore do not wish to overthrow government 3. It is not morally motivated riles departures by state officials • Although these departures have much in common with acts of civil disobedience, acts of civil disobedience are reserved 4. It is not to act out of necessity • Since most modern legal systems accept ‘necessity’ as a justifiable defence, when one breaks the law for this reason, one is not thereby engaging in an act of civil disobedience 5. It is not to ‘test the law’ • If one breaks the law in order to gain standing to test the validity of that law one is not engaging in an act of civil disobedience What Civil Disobedience IS - A public, nonviolent, conscientious political act contrary to law usually done with the aim of bringing about a change in the law or policies of the government 1. Acts of civil disobedience are engaged in openly and publicly • They aren’t covert acts of law-breaking undertaken as a show of force or on the basis of personal gain 2. Non-violent • Acts of civil disobedience are typically understood to be non-violent in nature • The aren’t militant acts against the state or other citizens - To ensure that the action has the best possible change t
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