This conversation is closed.

Is it morally wrong to break the law?

For our society to function, we need to follow the rules, that we have agreed upon. If I personally think that a certain law has no right to exist, I should still follow it because otherwise the whole law system is useless. Everyone can subjectively decide which laws should be followed.

On the other hand, there might be situations in which breaking a law can hardly be morally wrong. If you could save a life, by breaking the tempo limit? Would it be morally wrong? If you were ordered (by law) to murder someone, would it be wrong to refuse it?

If breaking the law is not always morally wrong, then it is not morally wrong. Just breaking the law under certain conditions is morally wrong.
But if breaking the law is not morally wrong, what is the motivation to follow it?

  • Jun 3 2013: I would say it depends on the purpose of the law. Let's say, the purpose of making jaywalking illegal is to keep the roads open for drivers, so they can drive at a high speed without having to be concerned with hitting someone. And it keeps people safe. If there are not cars coming, the purpose not crossing in the middle of the road of keeping a walker safe from being hit is no longer relevant, because I can safely cross the road without slowing a driver down or me being in danger of being hit. So, if I can obviously see that there are no cars coming, I wouldn't feel bad about jaywalking. But if I were to walk out in front of a car, and get hit, or make them swerve or slam on the breaks, I would have caused the problem the law's purpose was intended to prevent. So I think it's about understanding the reason, purpose, or intention of the law to know why it should be followed.
    • Jun 3 2013: But if we judge each law individually and decide whether to follow or not to follow. Why are there laws in general?
      • Jun 3 2013: That's what I'm saying, it's for the intention of each law. The reason it's illegal to cross the road is to keep people safe and allow drivers to drive fast without worrying about hitting people. That was why the law was made. So if that's why the law was made, then if the reason for the law is present, then that is why it should be followed. I don't know if this would apply to every law, but if you know the reason for why that law specifically was made, then you know why (or whether) it is needed to be followed. Do we have purpose because of law, or law because of purpose?
  • Jun 3 2013: Whose morals are we speaking of? If we are going to break a law that is "morally" wrong we need to establish whose morals we believe to be discussing. This creates a very grey area of what is right to break and what is not.

    Legally established rules and laws are there for a reason. If we wish to break it for moral reasons, then we must established what those morals are and whether they are just and right.
  • Jun 6 2013: Sometimes it would be morally wrong not to break the law. Law and morality usually have nothing to do with each other.
  • thumb
    Jun 3 2013: The Common Good should be the rationale for any law. To break the law is to oppose the Common Good and must be accompanied by a suitable penalty. Crime and Punishment 101. Morality is highly subjective. It seems unwise for a society to establish a law which conflicts with its own prevailing (majority) morality. Such a law creates a severe tension for those who experience the conflict. The motivation to obey the law, even when it offends one's moral beliefs, is to avoid punishment. The most severe conflict is when one's allegiance to one's moral code makes obeying the law impossible. Then the punishment must be accepted.
  • thumb
    Jun 3 2013: not if you believ you are right and that the law is wrong.
  • thumb
    Jun 3 2013: Hi Fabian

    Morally wrong laws should not be accepted,
    they need to be broken and abolished.
  • thumb
    Jun 3 2013: Breaking the law is simply not morally wrong. Breaking some of them can be. A googleplex of examples could probably be made for this.
    One example is that in the state of Alabama (US) You may not have an ice cream cone in your back pocket at any time.
    This is because horse thieves used to lure horses away like that. But it's still illegal. I challenge anyone to show me how that can be morally wrong.
    Or say the whole marijuana thing, in the US it's legal to smoke in some states, be it medical or recreational but it's still illegal by federal law. quite the moral contradiction.
    Or how about women in Iran that aren't allowed to go unveiled outside.
    Or lets just take every law from every country that contradict each other... in some places you can drink and others you can't. in some places adultery is a crime and isn't in others.

    I think that it's impossible for anyone to morally agree with all the laws of his/her state/country.

    Well, I think you get the general idea.

    The only reason to follow laws (that you yourself don't agree with) is FEAR.

    On the other hand most people view morality as something subjective and personal, imagine how many homosexuals would be murdered if there wasn't the fear of punishment (not by God but by state). I view morality as something that can (and will) be objective. If you haven't seen Sam Harris Talk I recommend it.
    • Jun 3 2013: It might be morally wrong to break the law about ice cream cones rather than the ice cream action itself. What would happen if everyone would break the laws he personally cannot understand or does not like? So the act of breaking the ice cream law might be morally wrong.
      • thumb
        Jun 3 2013: Yes, you are right that it might be wrong, it is possible. But it would have to be demonstrated through moral reasoning with the deductive process of eliminating suffering, direct and indirect.

        If it can be demonstrated that it leads to suffering then it would be morally wrong to a certain degree.

        Do you think that it is morally wrong to carry an ice-cream cone in your back pocket? If so, why?
        • Jun 3 2013: If there is a law against it, it is wrong because you break the law. (Please note, that I havent decided on whether breaking the law is generally wrong)

          A rough sketch of this:

          Person breaks ice cream law -> other people learn that breaking laws is not morally wrong -> other people break laws -> resulting in some kind of anarchy, coming with plenty suffering

          If there is no law against, ice cream carrying, I do not think why it should be wrong.
      • thumb
        Jun 6 2013: So you're arguing that any law makes something immoral? Just on the basis of possible negative consequences, what about the negative consequences of the law it self? If the later is heavier then the first then would it not make it morally wrong NOT to break the law?
  • thumb
    Jun 3 2013: G'day Fabian

    This depends on the laws being broken, is it immoral to break the speed limit & is it immoral to jump in the water when someone is drowning even when an erected sign says no swimming? However it is immoral to rape or rob anyone & take a life.

  • Jun 3 2013: It depends on how closely the laws follow your definition of morality. Your moral code may be influenced by personal beliefs, religion, up-bringing, or things other than laws. For example, if there are laws preventing your form selling things on Sunday, but your holy day is Saturday, you may see nothing immoral about conducting business on Sundays. You will still be breaking a law however, your local societies laws, and risk suffering the consequences of your action if you are caught.

    Just to clarify the definition...From Wiki:

    Morality is the differentiation of intentions, decisions, and actions between those that are "good" (or right) and those that are "bad" (or wrong). The philosophy of morality is ethics. A moral code is a system of morality (according to a particular philosophy, religion, culture, etc.) and a moral is any one practice or teaching within a moral code. Morality may also be specifically synonymous with "goodness" or "rightness." Immorality is the active opposition to morality (i.e. opposition to that which is good or right), while amorality is variously defined as an unawareness of, indifference toward, or disbelief in any set of moral standards or principles
  • thumb
    Jun 2 2013: If our laws were a perfect conceptualization of morality that encapsulated all the nuances of ethics, then it would be morally wrong to break the law because legal law and moral law would be synonymous.

    However, until we reach that point (maybe never), it's up to individuals to break laws to reform them and help society get closer.
    • Jun 3 2013: This sounds like a law that directly corresponds to morality is desired. There are things that are morally wrong, but should not be subject of law enforcement. Furthermore, law always includes some notion of punishment. How does morality tell us how law violations should be punished?
      • thumb
        Jun 3 2013: 1. We don't know how morality tells us how violations be punished.
        2. Could you give me an example of something that is morally wrong should not be subject to law enforcement?
        3. My personal belief is that morality cannot be conceptualized so it would be impossible to have a perfect law code.
        • Jun 3 2013: It might be morally wrong not to call my mother on her birthday. There should not be a law about it.
      • thumb
        Jun 3 2013: 1. I originally argued that the law would have to correspond to morality, not completely cover every facet. There's a difference.

        2. That example is a claim. Why shouldn't there be a law about it? We'd have to consult the "Book of Morality" (doesn't exist). Some might argue that if not calling your mother causes her to commit go to a nearby school and murder someone and commit suicide, not calling would be morally wrong because you are indirectly responsible for their deaths. Legally, it may not be your fault. How about morally? We'll never know.
  • thumb
    Jun 2 2013: Morality and law both evolves, but seems the morality evolves at a faster rate than that of law. So it's rather may become moral obligation to break obsolete laws .....

    Moreover law , lot of times are established with political , cultural or social intent which might not have any moral basis , in those cases also breaking law can be a moral obligation ....

    Question may arise who has that right to take that moral obligation ?