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.
This reminds me of a good example acted on here in the Detroit area, where someone involved with the Police department (a high up, but I'm not sure what position or department) in one of the towns actually came out and encouraged people who are having their homes foreclosed on, to physically refuse to leave the property. This is an instance where I believe that breaking the law, or general courtesy, is justifiable. Although I essentially agree that somebody who cannot pay for a home should not have something they can't pay for, usually such houses are bought by people who honestly make their payments but run into hard times, only to find their families on the streets or in the backs of vans after living in the same house for over two or three decades, and I would also probably refuse to leave my home no matter the consequence or backlash it earned me.
The problem I see with your logic is that not all people adhere to 'empathy'. What you're relying on is an ideal that everyone has the same abilities to recognize what is naturally right or wrong and don't need laws to keep them in place (this is very reminiscent of anarchy). The problem is that a lot of people DON'T. Murders, for instance, are perfectly fine among religious people like Muslims who advocate 'honor killings', or killings with a religiously justifiable basis. Laws exist simply to tell you what you can and can't do, so that if you don't adhere to them, there is a corresponding punishment. Rightly, any Muslim man who kills his wife or sister or daughter for not sticking to their religious virtues should be arrested, tried, and imprisoned. Although the basic idea of 'murder is wrong' is a generally universal concept, abnormal psychology and religious or moral justifications for such heinous actions do occur more frequently than is comfortable. The idea that you should 'never follow the law purely because it is the law' implies you're disregarding your concept of right and wrong and simply choosing not to follow the law on principle's sake. A more appropriate summation of your philosophy would probably be, 'one should never go out of their way to obey the law because people should naturally know what's right or wrong and not have to be bossed around like little children into doing what they're told'. Yet another problem here is assuming that having laws limits your freedom. Actually, laws exist to protect the freedom of others. Murder is illegal by law because you're violating the right to somebody else's life. Stealing is illegal by law because you're violating someone's right to their own property. Trespassing is illegal for the same reason. Jay-walking is illegal because it can cause accidents that in turn cause financial damage or could possibly end the life of somebody, again violating a person's right to life-- and in the matter of finance, every business and home should have some level of protection of its assets that discourages their potential destruction. If Jay walking was legal, accidents would undoubtedly occur more often, causing cars to swerve into poles, or into businesses, or into homes, which therefore destroy public or private property and endanger lives.
I honestly think the idea of anarchy is a little silly. In the same. I don't believe in bowing to the state, either. I believe every person should follow the law within reason, and challenge it when they feel it is justifiable, by legal means or at least means that do no harm to others if they are illegal. Question authority always, obviously.
Yeah, my father was pelted in the head in the 60's with rotten vegetables because activists believed all of the returning veterans had been drafted. They were pelting them in protest of their following the draft and not evading it to make a statement, their form of civil disobedience wherein a lot of draftees left for Canada (they were recently pardoned). My father was one of the few in his company that actually volunteered to go without being drafted. Funny enough, when he was back, all he could talk about was returning to Vietnam. They wouldn't let him because he had contracted malaria (as well as amoebic dysentary and jungle rot).
So what do you define as harm in those three instances? Is it limited to the physical? Does it extend to the emotional-psychological and financial factors? What is 'harm' that the law is trying to prevent?
I think harm means anything negative to anything that deals with any of the examples I listed,
When you are confronted with a problem and you have multiple choices I believe that you must choose the best out of those, best meaning that you need to pick the one with the most benefits for ALL. Call me a communist, I'll agree (;
That is a bit communistic, but not wrong. However, when you say 'breaking the law is okay if nobody is harmed and nothing bad happens to anyone or the environment', but then you say 'laws are set so you do no bad', you imply that law is somehow infallible therefore, making it useless to disobey the law because laws are set there already so we do no harm to people or the environment, while in the same breath advocating sometimes breaking it. I just want clarification.
The first point to make is that ultimately, there is no absolute morality. What we depend upon, then, is that, on average, people will typically tend to make moral decisions that most others agree with. For most things, this is the case. Ultimately what it comes to, then, is each individual person will make their own decisions for when it's okay to break the law, and the rest of us have a duty to stand up to those people whom we feel make bad decisions in that regard.
My personal belief is that first of all, it's not "that bad" to break a law that doesn't hurt anybody (whether physically, emotionally, economically), or even have significant risk of doing so. You always have to weigh against the potential downside of the legal consequences of the action, but this sort of law-breaking I wouldn't consider that bad in the main.
And we most certainly should break the law in situations where the law itself is causing harm to people, such as discriminatory laws, if breaking said law is effective. In many cases, civil rights protests fell right down this alley. Today the big civil rights issue is gay rights, though there aren't many situations in which it would actually be effective to break the law as a result (it's not exactly possible to get married illegally in any way that matters, after all). But here's a recent example of a bit of law-breaking (technically trespassing) that was, in my view, 100% the right thing to do: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/07/19/mass-kissin-protest-at-mo_...
Fortunately the church, in this case, did the sane thing and didn't press charges.