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Are there ever occasions when justice might require the law to be broken?

May 30, 2009

Response from Thomas Pogge on June 3, 2009
Yes. Clear cases are ones where the agent has strong reasons to believe that (1) the law is unjust, (2) compliance would cause substantial harm, and (3) non-compliance would neither (3a) lose much greater benefits, nor (3b) cause harm of comparable magnitude or (3c) unreasonable cost upon the agent. The Nazi period offers examples. Justice required German citizens in typical circumstances not to obey a law that mandated that they report Jews to the authorities for internment in concentration camps. This is so because German citizens knew, or could and should have known, that (1) the internment of Jews (and others) was unjust, (2) reporting a non-interned Jew to the authorities was very likely to harm this person greatly, (3a) the internment of the person reported would not bring any substantial benefit, (3b) the non-internment of the person would cause no harm comparable to the harm of internment, and (3c) not reporting a Jew was typically without risk to the agent (at least when one could plausibly plead ignorance).


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