Ethics of Civil Disobedience
Ban animal cruelty! Give aid to the poor! Save the rainforests! Obey the law! As a human race we must strive to fulfill these commands, for they are our moral duties and obligations. Our obligation to morality sometimes leads to a dilemma. What happens when a law contradicts the morally right thing to do? Would it be moral to act illegally by breaking the law? No matter how drastic the measure, we are still required to act morally--even if one must break the law to do so. But why is it so important to be moral that one could justify something as serious as breaking the law?
If morality is so significant that one could justify breaking the law we must consider the importance of being moral in the first place. The question “Why be moral?” is difficult for many philosophers to answer. Just by our attempt to answer this question we would already be displaying the need to act morally. This is more clearly seen with the difficulty is asking a similar type of question, “Why act rationally?” According to Singer many philosophers reject the question “Why act morally?” because it is parallel to this question of acting rationally. It would take rationality to explain why one should act rationally. Thus defeating the need to explain the importance of rationality in the first place. “…it needs no justification, because it cannot be intelligibly questioned unless it is already presupposed” (Singer 316). Similarly “why be moral?” asks for a moral reason to act morally.
Modern Kantianism considers acting rationally to be the same as acting ethically. If this is true, one could rationalize a need that is in their own self interest, yet at the same time against the interest of another individual. Since this can be a contradiction Singer insists the question--“Why must I act morally?”--be considered from a universal point of view. In Singer’s own words inspired by F.H. Bradley’s views on morality, “we can never get people to act morally by providing reasons of self-interest, because if they accept what we say and act on the reasons given, they will be only acting self-interestedly, not morally” (Singer 323).
However, if morality is so important, are the motives behind acting morally really all that significant? According to psychological egoism “every human action is motivated by self interest” (Rachels 64). As humans we are incapable of acting unselfishly. So what makes anyone think we could behave morally for altruistic reasons?
It is however possible for ethics and self-interest to find a common ground. As humans we are naturally benevolent. We care about the welfare of others--especially of those closest to us. Without close relationships we can never truly be happy. According to the American psychologist A.H. Maslow,
Human beings have a need for self-actualization that involves growing towards courage, kindness, knowledge, love, honesty, and unselfishness. When we fulfill this need, we feel serene, joyful,...