Thomas Hobbes vs. Moral and Legal Responsibility

Is legal responsibility the same as moral responsibility? This requires two questions and answers. On the one hand, are we, as citizens of the United States, required to follow every law? My answer: “yes.” The government creates the laws in order to better our lives (at least, they believe the laws will help improve daily life). Do we have a moral responsibility to follow them? My answer: “yes.” If we aim to be moral human beings, then we should not be breaking the laws that are (supposedly) set up for our betterment.


However, the idea that we are going to follow every law is not realistic. For example: do you know anyone who has ever driven above the speed limit even by a couple of miles an hour? If so, then you broke the law. Are you no longer considered morally responsible? CORRECT! Even if you are going 35MPH in a 30MPH zone, you are putting others at risk. Obviously there can be some extreme circumstances where such action is required (i.e., driving a birthing mother to the hospital, driving someone who is injured to the hospital, etc.), but aside from those times, breaking a law such as the speed limit is not being morally responsible.


What makes this question so hard to answer is another question – where do we draw the line? How are we, as humans, supposed to know when it is acceptable to break the law? In a perfect world, there would be a specific list of actions that would be recognized as viable reasons to break the law. However, we do not live in such a society because even this would provide problems – as technology advances, the court system would have to find ways to adapt to the laws to fit the ever-changing society. This, of course, would fall completely out of line with Judge Scalia’s perspective on the law (law should be interpreted as it was written and there should be no modern interpretation).


While we are morally responsible for the following of the laws, it is not fair to think that following every law is possible. Thomas Hobbes believed that men are inherently evil. I tend to agree with this idea more often than not because of our basic instincts. Due to our natural survival instincts, and what I believe to be generally selfish nature (always wanting to be better than the next person or believing we simply are better), we are not being “good” or “moral” people. With that in mind, is moral responsibility the same as legal responsibility? No; for as immoral people, we cannot be expected to follow every law. 


1 thought on “Thomas Hobbes vs. Moral and Legal Responsibility

  1. I think you’re absolutely right with your characterization of the separation between moral and legal responsibility. I would hope that they are not confused, but I would assume to much of the uneducated populus, they could be in many legal instances. I don’t believe we are inherently evil as Thomas Hobbes says, but I do agree humans fundamentally act out of self-interest. But I do not think that makes us fundamentally immoral, because who will fight for us if not ourselves? But regardless of whether we are moral or immoral, humans should not be expected to follow every law. In the same way that there are discrepancies of rulings in the judicial system, laws may or may not be followed in certain circumstances, and they will be judged off of those circumstances. So morality does not determine our legal responsibility, any more than our legal system determines our morality. They are distinctly separate systems, one a personal reflection of character, and another a tool for preservation of the state.

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