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If it's moral for me to break into a cabin and steal food to save my life in an emergency, should I be prosecuted for breaking and entering?

If it's moral for me to threaten a doctor with a gun to save my life, should I be prosecuted for threatening with a deadly weapon?

asked Jan 10 '12 at 10:37

Humbug's gravatar image

Humbug
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edited Jan 12 '12 at 01:34

Check your premises.

(Jan 11 '12 at 07:21) anthony anthony's gravatar image

My premise is that there should be no contradictions between legal law and moral law. Is that an incorrect premise to have?

(Jan 11 '12 at 13:24) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

Your premises seem to be: 1) that it's moral for you to break into a cabin and steal food to save your life in an emergency; 2) you are prosecuted for breaking an entering; 3) it's moral for you to threaten a doctor with a gun to save your life; 4) you are prosecuted for threatening with a deadly weapon.

(Jan 11 '12 at 22:28) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Only (1) and (3) are premises. (2) and (4) are part of the question and therefore not premises. Anyway, is (1) and (3) incorrect premises for me to have?

(Jan 11 '12 at 22:31) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

I believe 2 and 4, as I stated them, are premises. By asking "why is X the case", you are assuming that X is the case. As for which (if any) premises are correct, I think that depends on the context, though I can't think of a very realistic scenario where 3 is correct.

Anyway, I think there's a somewhat interesting question there. I'd phrase it as "Should it ever be illegal (criminally) to do something which is not immoral?"

I think the answer to that is "no", but it'd be interesting to hear from an Objectivist who disagrees.

(Jan 11 '12 at 23:14) anthony anthony's gravatar image

There you go. Only 2 premises now :)

(Jan 12 '12 at 01:34) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

Now I can answer your questions. No and no. If it's moral, it shouldn't be (criminally) illegal.

(With that said, I find it hard to imagine a realistic situation where the second conditional is true, and the first conditional is not true in all situations.)

(And I'd be quite interested in hearing from an Objectivist who disagreed.)

(Jan 12 '12 at 08:45) anthony anthony's gravatar image
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While not completely unrelated, your two questions are clearly separate issues. Breaking into and taking someone's private property is illegal whatever the motivation. If done clearly to prevent one's death, and if the perpetrator provides restitution, prosecution is rather unlikely and conviction if prosecuted, is even less likely. Whether moral or not has been discussed on the other thread. Threatening another person with a deadly weapon is NOT moral. Nor is it legal. Whatever the motivation, if you decide to use deadly force to "preserve" your life, you are engaging in immoral and illegal action and should face the expected consequences. I am having difficulty conceiving of a situation in which one would threaten a physician with a gun to "save one's life." If you expect the physician to use his or her mind in order to assist you, you may wish to consider the consequences of being dependent upon someone who is rather likely to be both frightened and angry both of which emotions are likely to impede clear thought. Most physicians are willing to use their mind and skill to assist persons in danger of death with no need for threat. Many, if threatened, will seek safety through escape or somehow impairing the threatener. One of the primary functions of government is to protect members of the society from threat. While threat of others is immoral, that is not the primary justification of laws against threat. The justification is that violence and theft are incompatible with a sane and trade based society.

answered Jan 11 '12 at 09:59

ethwc's gravatar image

ethwc ♦
19417

While a doctor may "want" to help someone, they may be restricted from doing so by hospital policies requiring that you must show proof of insurance before receiving help. Sticking a gun to the doctor's head is a way of getting him over that barrier. Alternatively, I could use the idea presented in the movie John Q.

Anyway, my main question is: Should legal law model moral law? I can't determine whether your response is YES or NO. Whether the jury reacts emotionally to a man who is just doing the "best he can" doesn't mean that it's legal.

(Jan 11 '12 at 12:23) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

As I indicated, the primary justification of laws is not morality but legislating against those actions that involve violence leading to a society not based on sane trading.

(Jan 11 '12 at 12:55) ethwc ♦ ethwc's gravatar image

As to the threat of the physician in your example. If I understand you correctly, the plan is to not loot someone else's value by threatening that person but to loot a third party by threatening the doctor. Ignoring the existing laws that require hospitals to render life and "limb" threatening conditions regardless of ability to pay, why would the hospital respond to this sort of threat? Looting is bad enough on its face, looting indirectly seems even worse.

(Jan 11 '12 at 12:56) ethwc ♦ ethwc's gravatar image

"Breaking into and taking someone's private property is illegal whatever the motivation. If done clearly to prevent one's death, and if the perpetrator provides restitution, prosecution is rather unlikely and conviction if prosecuted, is even less likely."

Prosecution and conviction are unlikely because, at least in some cases, it's not illegal. Necessity is a defense. There are also statutory defenses in certain situations (e.g. firefighters/paramedics breaking into a car/home).

(Jan 11 '12 at 22:32) anthony anthony's gravatar image
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Government should not attempt to legislate morality. Government's sole purpose should be the protection of individual rights.

Breaking in to a house to steal in the event of an emergency should be illegal; but perhaps the owner wouldn't press charges if the thief made proper restitution.

Law, like rights, is set aside by the person affected in a true emergency. One of the corollaries that goes along with the potential violation of rights in the event of an emergency is the violator should be willing to pay the price for doing so, up to and including possibly losing their life in the attempt. For example, if you break into my home because you're hungry, if I feel threatened, I may legally respond with lethal force.

answered Jan 12 '12 at 00:29

Rick's gravatar image

Rick ♦
53910

"Government should not attempt to legislate morality. Government's sole purpose should be the protection of individual rights."

Isn't it immoral to intentionally violate the individual rights of another?

A "right" is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man's freedom of action in a social context.

Since the government's sole purpose is the protection of rights, the legislature's sole purpose is to legislate those aspects of morality which apply in social situations.

Politics is based on ethics, i.e. on morality.

(Jan 12 '12 at 08:54) anthony anthony's gravatar image

By setting rights aside, one is setting morality aside. This occurs in a lifeboat situation, because rights, and morality, are impossible in a lifeboat situation. It is not possible to act morally if your choice is between the principles of death and the principles of death.

(Jan 12 '12 at 09:04) anthony anthony's gravatar image

If morality are impossible in a lifeboat situation, then why say that breaking into a cabin to steal food to save your life is moral? Why not just say that it's amoral?

(Jan 12 '12 at 14:39) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

I don't think the cabin situation which was presented was a lifeboat situation. I think it's perfectly reasonable to assume that the cabin owner is going to be fine with me breaking in and eating the food, and then paying him back later. 99.99999% or more of the population is going to be perfectly fine with this, assuming there are no extenuating circumstances (there is not, for example, a global food shortage). If there are extenuating circumstances, for example, a global food shortage, where the cabin owner and I are both starving, then that would be a lifeboat situation.

(Jan 12 '12 at 20:19) anthony anthony's gravatar image

Does it matter if it's 99.99999%? What if it's 98%? How about 80%? Maybe it's even 60%?

(Jan 12 '12 at 23:28) Humbug Humbug's gravatar image

I find it incredibly hard to imagine a world in which 40% of the population would rather that I starve to death at their doorstep than let me have a little food on a payment plan. That's going to be an awfully intricate hypothetical, and probably would qualify as a lifeboat situation.

(Jan 14 '12 at 07:29) anthony anthony's gravatar image
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Asked: Jan 10 '12 at 10:37

Seen: 1,538 times

Last updated: Jan 14 '12 at 07:29