'Must we only obey a just law; should we obey a law because it is just to do so; or else can we not obey at all?'
The questions that shall be answered in this essay are 'Must we only obey a just law?', 'Should we obey a law because it is just to do so?' and 'Or else, can we not obey at all?'
Before we can answer these questions it is important to establish what is meant by the term 'just'. 'Just' in this case means 'morally just', I think, but differences of opinion exist as to its meaning. For the purpose of this essay, I shall take 'just' to mean 'fair' in the way Rawls indicates when he writes about the veil of justice in 1971: the every-day-sense of the term the average person would agree about.
Should we obey a law because it is just to do so?
The first question I shall address is whether one should obey a law 'because it is just to do so'.
Woozley in 1979 states: If political leaders and police chiefs had their way, all of us would believe that a powerful reason (possibly the principle, if not the only, reason) that we should obey a law is that it is a law. In fact, with the exception of a special class of laws, it is no reason at all.
This is the core of discussion whether there is a general moral obligation to obey the law.
This discussion started in the 1970's in the United States. The background to it was the civil rights movement in the United States, and the Vietnam War with its political scandals. People who disagreed with the governments' policies started arguing that sometimes, a citizen is justified in acting illegally.