If an individual believes that it's OK to break a law for personal reasons, does moral consistency require that he should be accepting of other people's law-breaking?

For example, is it morally inconsistent for a thief (who believes his crimes are justified in some way) to criticize a murderer?

What about if I said it was OK for me to routinely run a red-light on my bicycle (knowing that this is illegal in my city). Would it be inconsistent if I were to criticize a truck-driver who also ignores red-lights?

I could argue that a thief is less harmful than a murderer. A cyclist is less likely to cause injury than a speeding truck. This seems all very plausible, however I've allowed myself to become a judge of what laws can be followed and what can be ignored.

Would a morally consistent position require me to give the truck-driver and the murderer the same right to judge his own actions? Or in other words - how can I permit myself a low-level of law-breaking but but continue to argue that people should respect "big" laws like not murdering people or not driving trucks recklessly?

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    Confusing question. What do you mean by "does moral consistency require..."? I feel like we control our own decisions, not the other way around. Whether or not we believe any particular decision we make is a moral one according to our own standards is a separate matter. Sometimes the decisions we make are moral, and other times we judge them not to be (that's why we have regret).
    – stoicfury
    Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 23:09
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    Who says we have to be morally consistent? What makes you think it is impossible to internally rationalize basically any set of moral standards? People rationalize that genocide and slavery and all sorts of extreme actions are morally justified. I'm sure it's no problem for you to morally justify running a red-light on your bike and yet simultaneously asserting that it is not morally okay for a huge truck to do the same. A lot of people's moral views are not internally consistent.
    – stoicfury
    Commented Dec 9, 2011 at 23:11
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    @stoicfury: one need not call it moral inconsistency to allow bike's to run red lights but not trucks. The rule can be more complicated than 'don't run red lights'. Maybe the rule is 'don't be unsafe' and a bike is safe going through a red light but a truck is not.
    – Mitch
    Commented Dec 21, 2011 at 18:08

5 Answers 5


Yes, a deliberate rule-breaker can be morally consistent without inviting a slippery slope, if and only if he is following a consistent rule in his rule-breaking.

An example would be: I routinely run red lights in my city, because I drive an ambulance. A truck driver who runs red lights is still open to criticism from me.

This can still be viewed as in accordance with Kant's categorical imperative, simply adjusted for context.


Can a deliberate rule-breaker be morally consistent without inviting a slippery-slope?

Yes, if the following conditions are met:

It can help to puzzle through this question of consistency by first noticing that consistency will involve both the asker and the rule-breaker.

If the following conditions for the rule-breaker are met:
1. Is following their own personal moral code.
2. Is breaking a rule not in their own code.

If the following conditions are met for the asker:
1. Is the rule breaker following a moral code that you agree with or at least can accept.
2. Is the asker following a moral code that allows for:
(a) Following one's own personal moral code, and
(b) Breaking a rule that is not in ones moral code.

The question of the slippery slope may arise as a person makes the transition from an external moral code to an internal moral code. At this time, the "rule-breaking" is necessary in order to relinquish the external code, but if no other code is substituted, we will see a decent into sociopathology or one of the common degenerate codes such as "every man for himself".


The core concern of the question seems to be the tu quoque fallacy which seeks invalidate a person’s argument based on the person’s record rather than the person’s claim. I think some clarity can be attained by isolating some issues in the question. The underlying confusion seems to be a confusion between morality and legality.

If you believe that breaking laws is morally bad yet you continue to run red lights and your objection to the murder is solely that he or she is breaking a law. Then, yes, you would be inconsistent. However, your inconsistency still would not logically invalidate your claim that murder is wrong. Presumably, your actions and moral judgements are not derived solely from legal considerations, and your objection to the murderer is not that he or she has performed an illegal act but rather an immoral one. You may genuinely believe that running red lights is moral and hence criticizing a murderer on moral grounds does not undermine your moral consistency. And again, even if you did believe that running red lights was immoral--and thus were inconsistent as a result-- your consistency would not affect the immoral status of murder.


By my understanding of Moral Consistency, I would say yes, but only to a degree. Moral consistency requires that a person be consistent with their own moral code or moral standards. If a thief (thief A), therefore, truly believes that stealing is justified, he cannot condemn another thief (thief B) for doing the same, as stealing is not considered "evil" according to thief A's moral code.

The example posted about a thief criticizing a murderer, however, may be a tad broad, as thief A may still consider murder to be morally reprehensible, and my thus still condemn it. In this case, he wouldn't be morally inconsistent, as murder may not, in his moral code, be excusable, as stealing is.

Putting all moral issues under one blanket is impossible, as moral standards and ethics differ according to individuals.

A good example of this in practice, is the fact that everyone lies, yet even those people that lie will normally condemn murder. The two, normally, aren't even seen in the same light by the average person.


The only instances where there would be hypocracy or inconsistency in the scenario you described is if the law-breaker considered the others offense as immoral because it was against the law.

It is quite conceivable for a person to not accept philosophically [incorrectly I believe] that there is no moral reality to private ownership of property and therefore feel free to help themselves to what belongs to others. It would be, or at least could be, entirely consistent for them to feel that it is morally wrong to hurt or kill that other person physically.

Distinguishing between a bicyclist and a trucker running a red light is more difficult because either can put others at risk, but it can be argued that the former isn't a problem (ultimately incorrectly I believe) because a biker doing so only poses a minimal risk to others while a truck can easily kill someone else while the driver remains unharmed.

On the other hand speeding down the free-way on a cell phone (in a place with laws against doing so) calling into a talk-radio show to complain about illegal aliens being law breakers would be morally inconsistent.

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