This is an interesting philosophical question that I've pondered on before: When is a man, if ever, justified in breaking the law?
It depends, in part, on how one defines the function of government to begin with, and whether the state exists to serve man or man exists to serve the state, of course. One must also mind that niches such as 'defensive murder' are typically covered in law; a person is not usually punished for defending themselves against another trespassing on their property who has just killed their entire family and who has shown definite intent to kill the person in question who has therefore murdered the offender. So to say 'in defense for my life' directly is not really a valid answer to the question, unless we're also examining Christian laws, which I am also open to if Christians would like to add their two cents on whether it's ever okay to break one of the ten commandments. Interpret this question however you can best answer it.
I'll add my own two cents later on, I don't want to affect anyone's answer with examples right away.
It's OK, I think I can understand what you mean by consequences - being that they reach much further than just the individual involved. However, if I have judged what you mean correctly, I would still not be convinced that acceptance of such is justification.
I view justification, in this context, as the reasoning that makes an action right when it would otherwise be wrong - regardless of any legal ramifications.
I fail to see how a person's willingness to take responsibility for the consequences of beating their child to death, no matter how broad the conseqences may be or how burdensome the responsibility is, can make the action right.
Apologies in advance if I have misconstrued what you meant.
So you follow the rule of 'the lesser of the two evils'. If following the law would cause someone's harm or death, and breaking the law would prevent equivalent or more harm, therefore lessening the impact, the action is justified? Can you think of any hypothetical examples?
'Lesser of two evils' is a somewhat loaded statement, although I don't think you meant it to be. However, I don't consider the laws of my country to be evil - some are just badly formed, and some are badly interpreted. I digress.
As for some specific examples:
Scenario 1: I am driving to work and I am late. Being late to work is not a big problem for my boss as it happens infrequently. Should I break the law by speeding to get to work on time? The laws defining the maxiumum speed limit are there to ensure the safety of everyone using the area - by breaking the law I am placing myself and others at risk of harm through a motor vehicle accident. So in this case I would not feel that I was justified in breaking the law by speeding.
Scenario 2: As above except that I am on my last warning and being late to work will result in my dismissal - placing severe financial and emotional stress on my family. The certainty of harm to my family in this case outweighs the potential for harm in a motor vehicle accident. I would feel justified in breaking the law by speeding in order to get to work on time. By the same token I would not quibble in any way with any punishment I might get if caught by a police officer.
Scenario 3: My government has passed laws allowing them to arrest and persecute members of a particular ethnic minority. I have absolutely no problem justifying hiding members of this ethnic minority in my attic and thus breaking the law. Allowing them to be arrested, by action or inaction, would cause more harm than hiding them.
But these are easy examples for me to answer as they are of my own making and are biased towards supporting my philosophy.
When the law does not allow for justice at the time. Lets pick the worst crime, murder. We have a stipulation now called justifiable homicide in the cases where people defended themselves or others from harm.
If I had a child and that child was raped by a priest and the court case was lost but I knew it happened and was happening to others I could justify breaking the law to stop him in some way. I would also recognize that I was breaking the law and willingly turn myself in if I was successful in stopping it from happening.
Well the only way you could be totally positive the priest raped the child would be if you saw it, or the evidence in circumstance was absolutely overwhelming and left no room for a shadow of a doubt. By the law, these are also the terms under which people are most likely to be convicted. In a way, you are implying (because of the absolute unlikeliness of this) that perhaps the priest's Vatican ties (or some higher up religious group) could get them out of prosecution (as it is known Ratzinger is for keeping these scandals quiet). What action would you be justified in taking if the law did not stop this man from raping children, do you feel?
If I went in to the church it happened in and saw him raping another kid yes I feel I have the right to take matters into my own hands when my testimony and the kids testimony was not enough to persuade a religious jury in denial. At that point beating or killing the man to stop the act would seem appropriate, if he was not doing it at the time breaking and entering and placing cameras is justified. If I knew he had gotten away with it for a long time I might consider killing him since he is obviously immune to justice and there is no proven justice beyond this life.
Hopefully that makes sense because he was abusing people, badly, bodily harm stopping the act could be appropriate. Then again if I could capture the guy and hack his wang off that seems like a good solution too. Make him suffer like all the kids he attacked.