Philosophical Multicore

Sometimes controversial, sometimes fallacious, sometimes thought-provoking, and always fun.


Posted by Michael Dickens on April 23, 2009

Just when I thought I had run out of topics, I found this site.

Resolution: Vigilantism is justified when the government has failed to enforce the law. Is it true or false? Let’s find out.

(If you do not comment about your own opinions, I will personally hunt you down, kidnap you, and lock you in my basement until you write a comment.)

To get some ideas flowing, I’m going to use some quotes from the above debate. I may repeat something that was said, since I’m only reading one post at a time. Also, I am not exactly debating for one side or the other; instead, I am investigating to determine the best option. It’s not always black and white; sometimes vigilantism is justified, and sometimes not.

The following comments are from the affirmative (i.e. the resolution is true) debater’s first post.

It’s the biggest test of the semester. The grade on this test will either make you or break you. You reach a problem that you don’t know. A little bit of help from your friend that actually studied would be extremely helpful right now. Well the same thing can be said for the government. The government is basically just taking a test, solving the problem of crime. Since nobody is perfect, we all need a little help sometime. So when the government has to skip over the problem that it doesn’t know, why not let your friend give you a little help? Vigilantism is the government’s friend that is helping out on the test. Because I believe that everyone needs a little help here and there, I stand in strong affirmation of the resolution, Resolved: Vigilantism is justified when the government has failed to enforce the law.

I cannot think of a worse analogy. If I reach a problem that I cannot answer, it’s my fault for not knowing it. It’s not the test’s fault. The test has no responsibility to make sure I know everything; neither does my friend. It is my responsibility. When my friend helps me, that’s what we call cheating. It is generally considered immoral.

In addition, that analogy does not entirely apply. The government never asked for help. It’s possible that the government is completely competent, but simply isn’t acting.

If the government has already failed in its duty to uphold the law, then how is justice suppose to be achieved? People need to take action when nothing is accomplished by the government.

I agree. I see this as the primary argument in support of the resolution, and apparently so does the affirmative debater.

Contention 1 – Look at the most famous vigilante ever, Batman

Yes, use a fictional character as your first example. That’s a great idea.

In seriousness, fictional characters can be a useful tool in making examples. But in terms of actual societal reactions to certain activities, stories fail miserably. That sort of prediction has to do with chaos theory, meaning it’s virtually impossible to get right, at least in the specifics. So vigilantism may work great for Gotham City, but in a real city it may be completely different.

According to the definition provided earlier, a vigilante only takes the law into their hands, but doesn’t change the laws or ignore them. The only difference between vigilantism and the regular system is who carries it out. If a “vigilante” breaks the law themselves or over punishes someone, then they can no longer be considered a vigilante, rather they are a rogue individual.

While an interesting point, this seems like a sort of circular definition: vigilantes always follow the law, and if they don’t, then they’re not vigilantes! Police are still police, even if they break the law. It’s a technically acceptable definition, but I don’t like it since it has no connection to reality; people don’t suddenly lose all their vigilante powers or whatever when they stop obeying the law. That sentence didn’t make much sense, did it?

Once the government fails, then it is a person’s right to self preservation in the form of vigilantism.

The author fails to back up this claim, so I will.

Everyone has fundamental rights to life, liberty, and happiness. Those are possibly the most important rights that we have. Since we live in a primarily Capitalist society, the right to property is arguably almost as important. The right to property means that we own our property, and no one may harm it or take it.

From these rights, it follows that vigilantism is necessary if the government fails to protect our rights, whether it be because of an incompetent government or simply because the government skipped over your case. Obeying the laws of the government are important, but are overridden by the rights to life, liberty, happiness, and possibly property.

The following arguments are from the negative (i.e. the resolution is false) debater’s first post.

In order to legitimize legal justice we must adhere to it. Breaking from it at any time loses the point of government in general.

This is true; however, if the government is already useless when it comes to enforcing justice, there is no reason not to delegitimize it. (triple negatives FTW)

The way the law must work consistently or else there is no point to it. And although it may fail time to time, we must also recognize that vigilantism fails from time to time as well. Therefore, the net benefit is given to the con side where there is actual consistency.

The second sentence does not follow from the first sentence, so I will deal with them separately.
1. If the law does not work consistently, then there is no point to it? This supports the affirmative side.
2. Vigilantism would only be used as a backup system in the case of the government failing. In this scenario, vigilantism cannot make the situation any worse than it already is.

Legal Justice is the decision of all whereas vigilantism is the decision of a few (or less).
—Thus, the legal justice decision is almost always the decision of the people. And whether it is right or wrong (usually right), it is what must be done. Changing from this is unjustified.

That is, if the legal justice system actually works. If the justice system is based on the decision of the people, it is likely working properly. If it is not working, then it is likely not based on the decision of the people, and is therefore no better than vigilantism.

The debate is not yet finished, so this is all I can comment on. I could add some of my own personal views, but I don’t really want to do that right now. Reviewing other people’s logic is more fun.


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