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An Overview of The Non-violent Direct Action, Liberty Or Harm Principle, and Civil Disobedience

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Non-Violent Direct Action (King)

Non- violent direct action according to Martin Luther King is to create a tension using the four steps listed below in the community so people cannot ignore the injustice that is happening. King lists four steps to non-violent direct action: 1. Collect facts – determine if injustice exists and to what extent does it exist, 2. Negotiation: give the people who are doing evil to solve the injustice without any violence, 3. Self purification: don’t stoop low enough and do things like they are doing by justifying your action as being needed for change, 4: Direct action.

The importance of non- violent direct action is to break or fix the unjust law that is placed on the minority by the majority. Also another importance of this is to create a civil disobedience without violence. King believes that people should break the unjust law in public to protest the injustice, which is to break the law openly and break the law lovingly, and to accept the consequence willingly. He says that show them that you are out there to fix the unjust law and not just breaking laws, and are out there to prove that your ideas are better without the use of violence.

Liberty/Harm Principle (Mill)

Mill’s definition of Liberty or harm principle is that people should be able to do whatever they want as long as their action is not harming others. Mill’s harm principle states “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others” if the individual is not harming others then the government should not be able to stop him from doing what he wants (Dimock, P.376). The only time that a government or the majority has power an individual is if that individual is harming others, as long as that is not the case then the individuals knows what is good for him and should be able to do what he is beneficial to him.

The importance of the harm principle or liberty is to limit the power of the government or majority over the individual. Mill believes that individuals should be autonomous and free of the government’s opinion as long as their action is not harming others in the process. The purpose of the harm principle is to ensure that the government is not controlling the liberty of an individual by means of physical force by using legal penalties, or by moral coercion or the public’s opinion. Mill believes that people should be the one to decide what is good or bad for them even if the decision they are making is not the right one as long as it cause no harm to others. So the majority should not have a say on what is good for the individual because the individual knows what is best for him.

Civil Disobedience (Rawls)

According to Rawl civil disobedience is a public, nonviolent, conscientious yet political act contrary to law usually done with the aim of changing the law in a nearly just society. Civil disobedience is associated with conscientious refusal that is noncompliance with a more or less direct legal order. Rawl believes that civil disobedience is justified if the normal appeal to the majority have failed, and if it is believed to be that there has been made a serious violations of the first principle of justice of the second part of the second principle of justice and there can not be so many groups engaged in civil disobedience that society breaks down. Rawl address that civil disobedience is political act because it address the people who hold the power as well as by the principle of justice.

The importance of civil obedience is that it is used to bring or strength just institutions and treat everyone equally and just. It is also important because it prevents just institutions from becoming unjust institutions as well as to let the majority know that the “condition of free cooperation are being violated. We are appealing to others to reconsider, to put themselves in our position, and recognize that they cannot expect us to acquiesce indefinitely in the terms they imposed upon us”.

Just Punishment

Punishment involves purposefully inflicting pain on a potential or actual offender for an offense like moral or legal wrongdoings. Punishment is morally and legally justified because of the pain that it inflicts on the perpetrator of a crime that is inflicted on his victim. Since punishment is justifiable, philosophers give different justification of punishment depending on what their philosophical belief is. Retributivists approach to punishment is justified by linking it to the moral wrongdoing, because retributivist believe that punishment is justified because it gives people who have committed an offense what they deserve. Retributivist’s focus on the moral duties on individual has. For a person to behave morally the individual must be following moral duties, and if not then the individual is behaving immorally. Utilitarian attempt to justify punishment by showing the good over evil that is produced. Utilitarian’s believe on the consequence of the action produced. So if the action of doing something inflicts pain for the majority then punishment is justifiable. Both retributivist and utilitarian believe that punishment is evil so there must be a reasonable justification for it. These theories have different approach to justification. Utilitarian’s believe justification is punishment is acceptable if it maximizes the benefit for more people while decreasing pain inflicted. Retributivists believe justification of punishment is acceptable it is done out of duty and rule.

Jeremy Bentham as the consequentialist utilitarian theorist believes that the moral appropriateness of an action depends on the consequence; on the other hand Kant as deontological theorist believes the moral appropriateness of an action depends on the obedience to the rule or duty no matter of the consequences.

Utilitarianism is a consequentialist theory. An action is wrong because the consequence that is produced by that action harms others, “Utilitarian’s believe that the morally right thing to do is whatever will produce the best consequences for all those affected by your action” (Dimock, 529). Jeremy Bentham as a consequentialist utilitarian theorist believes an action to be just if it accomplishes to generate the most happiness and least pain for most people that are being affected by that action. Utilitarianism use consequences of an action to judge if the action is right or wrong and the pain and happiness it produces to the majority. An example of this is demonstrated on page 529 about lying and telling the truth. Utilitarian’s believe if lying is the right thing to do for the good of the others then the lying is justified, even though it is morally wrong to lie.

Then utilitarian approach to punishment is based on the benefit it produces to the community. The main point of the theory of punishment is to deter people from committing a crime and produce maximum pleasure for the community. The aim of punishment for utilitarian is to stop crime from happening again, convince offenders to choose a less costly offense, convince offenders to do a little harm as possible, and prevent offenses as cheap as possible because these actions produce the most benefit to the public as a whole. In order to prevent crime from happening again the value of punishment must not be less than what is sufficient to outweigh the profit of the offense. Punishment outweighs the profit of the offense then people will be less likely to commit crimes.

Unlike Bentham and his belief in utilitarianism, Kant believes that our actions are ruled only by duty and not by consequence since we are not able to control the consequence of an action. His theory is that an action is just or unjust regardless of the consequence and is only determined by the obligation to one’s duty. “Good will is good quite independently of any consequences it does or is expected to have” people do good will because that is their duty and as citizens we should do our duty (Dimock, 541). Since we are individuals with brains and we know what is right and wrong and if we violate the rule or fail to do our duty then we deserve the punishment that is given to us. While utilitarianism believe that punishment should be used to deter future crime and rehabilitate the individual, Retributions believe that punishment should be used because the offender deserves to be punished for his action. Retributions have the idea of an eye for an eye. They believe that the purpose of punishment is to ensure the equality of citizens, and to publicly disapprove an act.

From the perspective of morality or justice Bentham’s system of utilitarianism would be acceptable in some situations while not others and the same goes for Kant’s theory as well. For example: There is a situation where two people are in a fight and one person is very angry and wants to harm the other individual and he asks you if you know where the person is. In this situations Kant’s theory would say that we should tell where the person is hiding regardless of the harm because lying is morally wrong. Bentham in the other hand would say we should not tell where the person is because we are lying for the greater good. Another example is a situation killing one person could save ten or more people. Bentham would say that we should kill that one person in order to save the majority that is the benefit of the majority is more important than of that one individual. Kant would say no we should not because morally we do not have that power. If looking at it from the perspective of justice then it would be for the killing of one individual even though it is morally wrong.

Both Utilitarian and retributivist believe that punishment is evil and that there should be a justification for it. And each use different methods of justification for punishment. Utilitarian’s believe that punishment is justified because it prevents future crimes. Since utilitarian’s believe that the consequences of an action is important in determining or justifying punishment, then punishment should be used to produced maximum happiness to majority. Retributivist believes punishment should be justified based on the rightness or wrongness of the act.

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An Overview of the Non-Violent Direct Action, Liberty or Harm Principle, and Civil Disobedience. (2018, October 02). GradesFixer. Retrieved May 20, 2022, from
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