The Morality of Civil Disobedience

  • Stephanie Smith

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


In this thesis I present my theory of civil disobedience as a conscientiously motivated breaking of the law in order to correct or appropriately address a wrongdoing of the state. I argue that civil disobedience may be morally justifiable based on the relevant circumstances of the act and under the constraints on action listed. In the thesis I propose John Rawls’ theory of the natural duty to support just institutions as the most satisfactory answer to the question of political obligation, and consequentially base my theory of the moral justifiability of civil disobedience upon this account. I argue that civil disobedience may be morally justifiably engaged in as a response to wrongdoings of the state of a certain level of severity, which I define as wrongdoings which undermine basic interests and prevent a good quality of life for citizens with dignity, cause unjustified suffering or death to sentient creatures, or cause harm to future generations. I argue that violence may be morally justifiably used within civil disobedience, under very tight restrictions, and contrasting to Rawls’ definition of civil disobedience, I argue that my theory of civil disobedience does not require the stipulations of publicity, nonviolence and communication.
Date of Award11 Feb 2017
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorRaoul Mortley (Supervisor) & Damian Cox (Supervisor)

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