Saturday, April 21, 2012

Videos: The Morality of Breaking the Law and Vigilantism

By Diana Hsieh

In Sunday's Philosophy in Action Webcast, I discussed the morality of breaking the law and vigilantism in two questions. The first question was:

When is it moral to break the law? Laws should be written to protect individual rights. Unfortunately, many laws today violate rights. When should I abide by a rights-violating law, and when is it proper to break it?
My answer, in brief:
A person does not have any moral obligation to submit to violations of his rights. However, the proper course – whether complying with the law, breaking the law overtly, or breaking the law covertly – depends on the particulars of the situation. Mostly, get legal advice first!
Here's the video of my full answer:
The second question was:
Where is the line between justice and vigilantism? When is it moral to take the law into your own hands – meaning pursuing, detaining, and/or punishing criminals as a private citizen? Suppose that you know – without a shadow of a doubt – that some person committed a serious crime against you or a loved one. If the justice system cannot punish the person due to some technicality, is it wrong for you to do so? If you're caught, should a judge or jury punish you, as if you'd committed a crime against an innocent person?
My answer, in brief:
The vigilante is not an agent of justice, but a threat to innocents and to the foundations of civilized society.
Here's the video of my full answer:
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