The Duty to Obey the Law: Selected Philosophical Readings

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William Atkins Edmundson
Rowman & Littlefield, 1999 - Philosophy - 352 pages
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The question, 'Why should I obey the law?' introduces a contemporary puzzle that is as old as philosophy itself. The puzzle is especially troublesome if we think of cases in which breaking the law is not otherwise wrongful, and in which the chances of getting caught are negligible. Philosophers from Socrates to H.L.A. Hart have struggled to give reasoned support to the idea that we do have a general moral duty to obey the law but, more recently, the greater number of learned voices has expressed doubt that there is any such duty, at least as traditionally conceived. The thought that there is no such duty poses a challenge to our ordinary understanding of political authority and its legitimacy. In what sense can political officials have a right to rule us if there is no duty to obey the laws they lay down? Some thinkers, concluding that a general duty to obey the law cannot be defended, have gone so far as to embrace philosophical anarchism, the view that the state is necessarily illegitimate. Others argue that the duty to obey the law can be grounded on the idea of consent, or on fairness, or on other ideas, such as community.

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Selected pages


The Obligation to Obey the Law
The Justification of Civil Disobedience
The Conflict between Authority and Autonomy
Is There a Prima Facie Obligation to Obey the Law?
The Principle of Fair Play
Political Authority and Political Obligation
The Obligation to Obey Revision and Tradition
Legitimate Authority and the Duty to Obey
Legal Theory and the Claim of Authority
Freedom Recognition and Obligation A Feminist Approach to Political Theory
Special Ties and Natural Duties
Who Believes in Political Obligation?
Surrender of Judgment and the Consent Theory of Political Authority
About the Contributors

Presumptive Benefit Fairness and Political Obligation

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About the author (1999)

William A. Edmundson is professor at Georgia State University College of Law. He is the author of Three Anarchical Fallacies: An Essay on Political Authority (1998, Cambridge University Press).

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