Answer to Question #161152 in History for Wilson Huang

Question #161152

200-300 words

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy selection on "Civil Disobedience," discusses the philosophy behind the practice. How can non-violent civil disobedience, according to one of the philosopher's quoted, perhaps be more forceful and "violent" than actual acts of physical violence?


Expert's answer

Rawls suggests that nonviolence during civil disobedience diminishes the negative effects of breaching the law. Using violence that’s likely to cause injury is conflicting with the dynamics of civil disobedience of civil disobedience as a mode of address. Although his take on nonviolent civil disobedience has been embodied by various disobedients, many scholars have opposed the essentiality of nonviolence in civil disobedience by questioning the relevant scope of violence applicable to civil disobedience.

According to Morreal, if the criterion used for a violent action is likelihood of causing harm, however minor, then civil disobedience in itself counts as an act of violence. According to Raz, nonviolent acts, which act as legal acts at times do cause more harm to other people than violent acts e.g. where ambulance workers hold nonviolent strike thus having more dire consequences than minor acts of vandalism. Singer asserts that violence does not destroy the communicative quality of a civil disobedience as Rawls portrays. According to him, depending on the form, little violence applied to reach a certain goal may enhance the communicative quality of the act by attracting more attention to the cause or by accenting the protester’s frustration.

These takes, however, do not deny the actuality that a nonviolent discourse is more favorable to a violent one. According to Raz, nonviolence banishes the direct harm caused by violent acts and condemns violence in other cases where violence would be unwarranted. Moreover, it does not distract the public’s attention and is more forceful as it is legal thus denying authorities a justification for a violent retaliation against protesters. 

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