Plato's Engagement In Civil Disobedience

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Rigoberto Portillo Medina Professor A. Jay Adler ENG 111-10 11 December 2015 Engagement in Civil Disobedience Civil disobedience has been a tool involved in many significant reforms or changes in society, and civil disobedience appears to be indispensable for many to accomplish such changes. John Rawls, a Professor of Philosophy at Harvard University, in A Theory of Justice (1971), defines civil disobedience as a “public, nonviolent, conscientious yet political act contrary to law usually done with the aim of bringing about a change in the law or policies of the government” (364). Since civil disobedience involves breaking the law, usually with the intention to bring a change to society by defying an unjust law, it is difficult for a…show more content…
Plato, an Athenian philosopher, in “Crito,” has Crito to convince Socrates to escape prison; however, Socrates refutes Crito’s reasons by saying that it is never right to break the law. Plato has Socrates say, “We ought not to retaliate or render evil by evil to anyone, whatever evil we may have suffered from him.” The saying “an eye for an eye” does not apply to Socrates’ reasoning, for him the law must never be broken, and escaping from prison would pay the state back with the same coin. Socrates further argues that by staying within the state he has agreed to the state’s laws; he argues that it is his obligation to keep the law for all the benefits that the state has provided him. What Socrates is saying is that he has no other option but to follow the rules that he has agreed on. How can he turn his back on the state that has seen him grow? For him, it is unethical to break the law now that he is in danger, since he did not think that the law was wrong when it gave him everything he needed. It is there that lies the flaws of the law: sometimes it provides protection but sometimes it acts as a tool of harm. Even Socrates thinks that the state has committed an injustice or an evil to him, but he cannot return the evil to the state by breaking a…show more content…
John Rawls in A Theory of Justice (1976), explains, “The constitution is regarded as a just but imperfect procedure framed as far as the circumstances permit to ensure a just outcome. It is imperfect because there is no feasible political process which guarantees that the laws enacted in accordance with it will be just” (353). The significance of Rawls’ information is that society will always be inflicted with the flaws of the constitution. Even though the constitution implements just procedures to reach a final verdict on laws, it does not mean that the outcomes or the laws would be just as well; therefore, society will always carry a burden of injustice. Martin Luther King, Jr, a clergyman, orator, author, and President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, in “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (1963), writes that there exist two types of laws: just laws and unjust laws and that “a just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.” What King is saying is that society needs to know that there are two types of laws and distinguish between the two of them in order to know which laws to follow based on people’s morality. Societies need to realize the great burden that the constitutions’ imperfections have put over them by creating unjust laws.

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