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View Full Version : What is right vs what is legal, which holds greater sway with you?


JonIrenicus
08-15-2009, 12:01 AM
For the sake of argument, I think we can all agree that a good society has a legal system that aligns pretty well with what is right. But no society has reached perfection, and some societies have such a discord in what is legal vs what is right it almost gives carte blanch, ethically, to overrule such laws.


But then we are a nation of laws, and simply disagreeing with a law in and of itself is not a strong enough reason to flout it...


But on this I am very schizoid. I feel internally how Andrew Sullivan behaves externally.

For example I am against illegal immigration, and at the same time, I do NOT see anything wrong, ethically, with a guy crossing the border illegally for the purpose of trying to create a better life for himself and his family. I REFUSE to look upon such a person as a criminal in the same way I would look upon one who steals or assaults, they are NOT ethically the same, and for me that makes a difference. And for all that I would still support increased border enforcement. Mass deportation? no, not at all, but yes to keeping people out, even the ones with perfectly good and noble motives (the ones with bad motives = insta deportation).


It spills into my neoconish take on the world and interventions as well. I never could understand people making legalistic cases against intervention, as if that, in and of itself held a candle to issues of the good vs bad of intervening.

The irony is that I am completely susceptible to arguments of the form intervention A is bad because of X, Y, and Z reasons, there I have the Possibility of agreeing with the argument, or rejecting it.

Still, completely flouting laws, even if laws are not fit or just for a given situation is not something to be lauded or taken lightly.

But take the case of the Shoe bomber, I would guess many would (and have) take up the defense for his rights, principles über alles after all. But then no self respecting utilitarian could ever take such a stand, there will always be conditions and exceptions for those such as myself. But where to cut.


Do you all have some simple guidelines?

Or is it simpler for you, do you simply follow what is legal?

Starwatcher162536
08-15-2009, 12:23 AM
"I have gained this from philosophy: that I do without being commanded what others do only from fear of the law."
-some guy

More to the point, other then some exasperated parents not feeling like having to have an engaging conversation with an inquisitive five year old, I can't really think of any instances where I thought someone had such a simplistic view of the world that that person viewed following the rules as innately good or bad. Obviously, it depends on the rule.

(I am not admitting there is any sort of innate good or evil, simply that a sort of reciprocity in our actions towards each other is the best way to maximize happiness)

As for illegals, other then a few racists I have known, I can't recall anyone condemning them for some perceived moral infraction. Its virtually 100% of the time coming from the point of view that we just can't admit everybody if we are to maintain our standard of living.

But who knows, perhaps the people I associate with are not representative of this country at large.

bjkeefe
08-15-2009, 02:07 AM
[...]

Not just one but two threads about the shoebomber?

Where do I go to sign up for a life so free from concerns?

popcorn_karate
08-17-2009, 01:46 PM
By the age of 2-3 toddlers know the difference between breaking a rule and doing something "bad" - so i'm guessing not a lot of people end up being adults without this conceptualization.

stephanie
08-19-2009, 05:32 PM
Are you asking how we determine if the situation is such that violating a law is right? Or simply whether we make such a distinction (which I'm sure everyone does)?

For the sake of argument, I think we can all agree that a good society has a legal system that aligns pretty well with what is right. But no society has reached perfection, and some societies have such a discord in what is legal vs what is right it almost gives carte blanch, ethically, to overrule such laws.

Here, I think you bring in one of the issues, which is how the law came about and what the options are for changing it. Normally, the fact that one lives in a society in which one can work for changing a law of which one disapproves in a democratic way would weigh against a moral argument for violating the law. However, it obviously does not decide the matter, because laws could still exist that you believed caused harm or otherwise were wrong to follow.

But then we are a nation of laws, and simply disagreeing with a law in and of itself is not a strong enough reason to flout it...

I expect most people would agree.

But on this I am very schizoid. I feel internally how Andrew Sullivan behaves externally.

For example I am against illegal immigration, and at the same time, I do NOT see anything wrong, ethically, with a guy crossing the border illegally for the purpose of trying to create a better life for himself and his family. I REFUSE to look upon such a person as a criminal in the same way I would look upon one who steals or assaults, they are NOT ethically the same, and for me that makes a difference.

This is a concept in the law too -- at least, it sounds related to the distinction between actions which are malum in se (bad in themselves, independent of the law) and those which are malum prohibitum (wrong only because they are prohibited, liking drinking at age 20 or driving at 60 in a 55 zone). So I'd say you are right, they aren't the same. (Just because some laws are prohibiting conduct which is not independently bad in itself doesn't mean that they aren't necessary -- these are generally the kinds of laws needed to keep order, draw lines when there are no clear ones available, so on.)

And for all that I would still support increased border enforcement. Mass deportation? no, not at all, but yes to keeping people out, even the ones with perfectly good and noble motives (the ones with bad motives = insta deportation).

I'm not sure what point you are making here -- that you are for border enforcement because you don't think law breaking, even of malum prohibitum type laws, should be encouraged, but against deportation, because the punishment is too harsh for what you perceive as a technical violation? Something like that?

It spills into my neoconish take on the world and interventions as well. I never could understand people making legalistic cases against intervention, as if that, in and of itself held a candle to issues of the good vs bad of intervening.

I think this is a different issue entirely -- not about breaking laws, but about when countries should meddle in the affairs of others and what the nature of the meddling can and should be, both on a pragmatic and moral basis. Realism is in, but I suspect that very few people aren't considering moral concepts when considering these issues, and pragmatism (considering the real results likely to stem from my action and not just how good it feels to take a particular stand) is a moral position, concerned with views about right and wrong.