Action vs Character 2: Electric Boogaloo

In my last question, the majority opinion seemed to be that a voluntary reduction (or elimination) of heinous, violent acts would be a social good, even if the method resulted in an increase in people fantasizing or desiring heinous, violent acts.
My next question is similar.
Suppose a microchip is invented that is implanted in everybody from birth. The chip has a detail library of all laws on the books, and is constantly updated. The purpose of the chip is that everytime somebody is about to break a law, they are paralyzed for a couple seconds, and are unable to take the action- this is painless, and simply prevents the act in question. It does not restrict what a person may think or consider. A few ground rules:

1.) The device operates perfectly: It can tell the difference between being about to commit an act, vs. merely fantasizing or wishful thinking about an act. The device can discern between punching someone in the face because you’re boxing, vs. punching someone in the face as an example of illegal assault. All crime is always stopped, and nobody gets away without having the device, nobody can get it removed.

2.) Abuse is not a factor- yes, this would give enormous power to the government to control people, but assume for the sake of argument that this power is not abused. Consider a 50 year period in which no laws change- the law remains as it is now in your country.

3.) The chip cares nothing for ethics: It doesn’t matter how many starving children you are stealing the bread to feed, it doesn’t care that you are stealing a car to drive your injured wife to the hospital.

My question, as before- is this change of affairs primarily a social good, or a social ill? One possible complication- if a law in your country seems inhumane to enforce in this way, does that make it an inhumane law period? Do we have a ‘right’ to break the law?

I don’t think this type of system would make sense for minor things, like J-walking, but it definitely would be good for crimes that result in death. I wouldn’t want to have a microchip in me though. I would feel treated like an animal.

This is such an interesting question… really good.

I would tend to say yes, we have the right to break the law in certain circumstances, or if the laws were of a certain type.

For example if a law was blatantly unjust or inhumane, and to follow that law would make us unjust or inhumane I believe we could make a case that it would be right (in a moral sense) to break that law. By definition though you’d still be legally wrong to break the law.

Another example of a case where it is not necessarily wrong in a moral sense to break the law is a situation where you committed a minor crime for some social good like j-walking to go across and do CPR on someone. Or perhaps j-walking to call the fire department to come and rescue someone from a burning building.

While both of those are crimes by definition I’m not sure we could really say that they are truly criminal behaviours.

To specifically answer your question about whether this would be primarily a social good, or social ill my answer is that it would be primarily a social good. I think most crime does diminish our social well being.

That being said though, I’m not sure I would advocate this kind of technology. In the hypothetical where it is perfect and can’t be corrupted it might be ok… but in the real world I’m not sure.


gemty: You mention the idea of inhumane and unjust laws. Can you think of any laws which are more or less humane now, but would becomeinhumane if they were enforced by this chip? Or, do you think that any law that seems inhumane with the chip must have been inhumane anyway, and this just makes it easier to see it as such?


What you’re describing is the equivalent of the perfect police department, where the cops not only investigate crimes, but arrive on the scene just before a crime is about to be committed and stop it.

Given your impossible assumptions, who would be against the perfect police department?

And if rights are granted by the state (which is the larger question here), and laws are set up by the state to protect the state-determined rights, then, no, one would not have a “right” to break the law.

The problem with such a device is that it assumes that laws are rigid. Law is a fairly absurd concept, but is quite useful in ensuring social order. It’s a useful tool, a means-to-and-end, but not an end in-and-of itself.
All laws are designed with wiggle room in them. Such a chip would remove that wiggle room.
Think of it in terms of dynamics. The best materials have a certain amount of flexibility to them. The rules we build our society upon ought be the same.

I agree with Xunzian.

Laws are principles which, in general, if followed lead to good outcomes. However, often things are not clear cut - that is why we have juries. Until the 3rd assumption i would have no problem with the chip. My only problem is that it does not take into account extenuating circumstances.

I guess unjust laws is another problem with the chip too. Even if we assume all laws are “just” though the extenuating circumstance thing is the only intrinsic flaw to the idea.

Hmm, alright. I have one last question I’ll post in a day or two. This is all me trying to sort out where ‘The Good’ is in my own way. It seems that people have basically said that it’s tied strongly with results, and not at all strongly to institutionalized rules. That’s all within what I would have suspected.