On (not) accepting the punishment for civil disobedience

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Many believe that a citizen who engages in civil disobedience is not exempt from the sanctions that apply to standard law-breaking conduct. Since he is responsible for a deliberate breach of the law, he is also liable to punishment. Focusing on a conception of responsibility as answerability, I argue that a civil disobedient is responsible (i.e. answerable) to his fellows for the charges of wrongdoing, yet he is not liable to punishment merely for breaching the law. To support this claim, I defend an account of political obligation framed in terms of respect for (rather than mere obedience to) the law, and argue that the mere illegality of civil disobedience does not suffice to establish wrongdoing. I then discuss and reject three objections to my argument.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)503-520
Number of pages18
JournalThe Philosophical Quarterly
Issue number272
Early online dateJan 2018
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2018


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