Civil Disobedience - Research Article from Encyclopedia of Philosophy

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Defining "Civil Disobedience"

The definition of civil disobedience that best accords with the tradition of Thoreau, Gandhi, and King categorizes acts as civil disobedience if they have four features. They must be: (1) illegal; (2) nonviolent; (3) public; and (4) done to protest a governmental law or policy.

Thoreau's refusal to pay his taxes has all these features. It was illegal, nonviolent, and public. (Unlike a tax evader, Thoreau did not hide his not paying.) And, it was done to protest policies of the United States government that Thoreau thought were seriously unjust—support of slavery and an aggressive war against Mexico.

Actions such as Thoreau's are sometimes described as "conscientious refusal," refusing to obey a law that requires one to act immorally. While conscientious refusal is not identical with publicly protesting a policy, the two usually go together. Generally, people who refuse to obey unjust laws hope that their...

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This section contains 2,144 words
(approx. 8 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Civil Disobedience Encyclopedia Article
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Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Civil Disobedience from Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Copyright © 2001-2006 by Macmillan Reference USA, an imprint of the Gale Group. All rights reserved.
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