Procedural Justification of Civil Disobedience

Open Access
Bishop, Isaac O'Neal
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • John Philip Christman, Thesis Supervisor
  • Vincent M Colapietro, Honors Advisor
  • civil disobedience
  • political philosophy
Civil disobedience has a long history as a manner in which members of a state or institution act in a way contrary to law or rules which govern them in order to express any number of sentiments of discontentment. This discontent may be the desire for changes to the law, an expression of distrust or concern with those in political or influential offices, a call to action to other persons of similar status, or an appeal by an underrepresented minority to a majority, etc. However, civilly disobedient behavior also has an equally long history in terms of being extremely problematic in social, political, and philosophical thought. Often contextualized within what we may term a liberal-democratic state, the difficulty of civil disobedience arises in understanding what causes citizens to resort to civil disobedience in order to attempt the enactment of the changes they desire, and if this sort of behavior is justifiable. If laws in a democracy can be changed by popular will, how can intentional law-breaking possibly be justified in social and political life? This then leads to furthers questions regarding civil disobedience, such as, its exact definition, what types or forms exist, which of these types or forms may be justified over others, and how the state or law should treat disobedients. This project will take up these types of problems as considered by social and political philosophy, and address certain theoretical or actual examples of civil disobedience in relation to the arguments being made. The result of these considerations will be that civil disobedience, understood in a very general way, may be justified through what we will term Procedural Justification. Procedural Justification will require that the justification of any given disobedient action falls upon the disobedients themselves, who must approach their particular situations with a broad and clear understanding of their own actions and the consequences they are likely to suffer. In committing an act of civil disobedience, one must realize the drastic nature of this act and express in full why and how this act is understandable in relation to their social status, subculture, beliefs, etc. The multifariousness of civil disobedience makes it impossible to justify ex ante, as has been attempted in political philosophy; instead, as philosophers, we must demonstrate to those considering civil disobedience the difficulties inherent and actions required for the disobedients to justify their actions to the public and use civil disobedience to attain the objectives of their cause.