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Civil Disobedience

Disputed Questions

Although the theory of civil disobedience has achieved philosophic maturity, there are two questions that still remain unresolved. One has to do with the place of violence in civil disobedience. Theorists such as Christian Bay do not rule out the use of limited physical violence. The problem here is where to draw the line between limited physical violence and revolutionary violence. The other question has to do with the acceptance of punishment due to civil disobedience. Some, including Rawls, accept it for prudential reasons, while others such as Gandhi do so for moral reasons. Gandhi believes that the suffering of the innocent victim has a unique moral force, which civil disobedience should integrate into its moral theory.


Bass, Jonathan, S. Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Martin Luther King Jr., Eight White Religious Leaders, and the "Letter From Birmingham Jail." Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2001.

Bay, Christian, and Charles C. Walker. Civil Disobedience: Theory and Practice. Montreal: Black Rose, 1975.

Bedau, H. A., comp. Civil Disobedience: Theory and Practice. Indianapolis: Pegasus, 1969.

Gandhi, Mahatma. Hind Swaraj and Other Writings. Edited by Anthony J. Parel. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

——. Satyagraha in South Africa. Ahmedabad: Navajivan, 1972.

Gans, Chaim. Philosophical Anarchism and Political Disobedience. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

Haksar, Vinit. Rights, Communities, and Disobedience: Liberalism and Gandhi. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Rawls, John. A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971.

Thoreau, Henry David. Political Writings. Edited by Nancy L. Rosenblum. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Anthony Parel

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Chimaeras to ClusterCivil Disobedience - The History Of The Concept, Philosophic Status Today, Disputed Questions, Bibliography