Document Type

Response or Comment

Publication Date


Publication Information

50 Am. J. Juris. 257 (2005)


Timothy Endicott tells the tale of the "wise electrician." The main activities of the Wise Electrician are two. One is that he installs legally required Grade 5 insulation in everyone's home save one. The second is that on his own ceiling light circuits he uses Grade 4 insulation, which cheaper to acquire and, in his professional judgment, it is safe. In fact, the Wise Electrician would install Grade 4 in those houses, too, but for one fact: it would be illegal. What makes our man so interesting is that it is illegal to install Grade 4 in his house too. The law says: Grade 5 for "all home wiring" and that's that. No exceptions listed.

Endicott says that the Wise Electrician breaks the law at home because it "cannot help him to act for the common good (or for any more particular good)." Out and around the Wise Electrician adheres to the building code even though he considers it to be–indeed, he knows it to be–overprotective. Why? The Wise Electrician obeys the law outside his home to avoid scandalizing the law-abiding. Endicott also asserts that code compliance is an implicit term of his agreement with customers.

This Response offers the preceding observations as matters of fact about social attitudes towards the law, and not as an argument for breaking laws. In fact, this Response argues against these attitudes below: people have a moral obligation to obey the law as such. Insofar as Endicott justifies the Wise Electrician's law abidingness outside the home by fear of scandal, this Response argues that the justification is weak. Law-abidingness as social habit or attitude is not that brittle, and thus this Response argues against the Wise Electrician law-breaking at home on grounds of fairness, not social consequences.


Reprinted with permission of American Journal of Jurisprudence.

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