Skip to main content

Categorical obligation in international law

  • Harry Gould (a1)

International Law in its current form is dominated by positivism and voluntarism; yet, it has accepted a number of concepts from the Natural Law tradition that seem on the face of things to ill-fit the dominant normative complex. Of primary concern here are the Natural Law notions of categorical obligation that have been brought into International Law in the form of jus cogens rules. A number of interesting questions present themselves. What are positivists doing talking about categoricals? How have they found a way to make this fit within their larger doctrine? Have positivists adopted the language of categorical obligation, but only the language, not the correlative practices? Is it simply a matter of smuggling in alien concepts and shoehorning them despite the lack of fit, or have they created something new that only seems not to fit? Ultimately, what we find is that International Law has accepted this idea in a form that ultimately is limited by voluntarism's insistence on the voluntary and specific character of all obligations.

Corresponding author
Hide All
Ago, Roberto. 1957. “Positive Law and International Law.” American Journal of International Law 51:691733.
American Law Institute. 1987. Restatement 3 rdof the Foreign Relations Law of the United States. Philadelphia: American Law Institute.
Austin, John. 1832. The Province of Jurisprudence Determined. New York: The Lawbook Exchange (1999).
Bartelson, Jens. 1995. A Genealogy of Sovereignty. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Bianchi, Andrea. 2008. “Human Rights and the Magic of Jus Cogens.” European Journal of International Law 19:491508.
Bix, Brian. 2004. A Dictionary of Legal Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Bix, Brian. 2005. “Legal Positivism.” In Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy of Law and Legal Theory, edited by Martin P. Golding and William A. Edmundson, 2949. New York: Blackwell.
Brierly, J.L. 1958. “The Basis of Obligation in International Law.” In The Basis of Obligation in International Law and Other Papers, edited by Hersch Lauterpacht and Humphrey Waldock, 167. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Brown, Chris. 1992. International Relations Theory: New Normative Approaches. New York: Columbia University Press.
Brown, Chris. 2002. Sovereignty, Rights and Justice: International Political Theory Today. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Byers, Michael. 1997. “Conceptualizing the Relationship between Jus Cogens and Erga Omnes Rules.” Nordic Journal of Internaitonal Law 66:211239.
Byers, Michael J. 1999. Custom, Power and the Power of Rules: International Relations and Customary International Law. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Caney, Simon. 2010. “Cosmopolitanism.” In Ethics and World Politics, edited by Duncan Bell, 146163. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Cassese, Antonio. 2005. International Law, 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Charney, Jonathan. 1985. “The Persistent Objector Rule and the Development of Customary International Law.” British Yearbook of International Law 56:124.
Charney, Jonathan. 1993. “Universal International Law.” American Journal of International Law 87:529551.
Christenson, Gordon A. 1988. Jus Cogens: Guarding Interests Fundamental to International Society.” Virginia Journal of International Law 28:585648.
Cochran, Molly. 1999. Normative Theory in International Relations: A Pragmatic Approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Cochran, Molly. 2001. “Rorty's Neo-pragmatism: Some Implications for International Relations Theory.” In Richard Rorty: Critical Dialogues, edited by Mattew Festenstein and Simon Thompson, 176199. Malden: Polity.
Criddle, Evan J., Fox-Decent, Evan. 2009. “A Fiduciary Theory of Jus Cogens.” Yale Journal of International Law 34:330387.
Damrosch, Lori, Henkin, Louis, Murphy, Sean D., Smit, Hans. eds. 2009. International Law: Cases and Materials, 5th ed. St. Paul: West Group.
Danilenko, Gennady M. 1991. “International Jus Cogens: Issues of Law-Making.” European Journal of International Law 2:4265.
de Hoogh, A.J.J. 1991. “The Relationship Between Jus Cogens, Obligations Erga Omnes and International Crimes: Peremptory Norms in Perspective.” Austrian Journal of Public International Law 42:183214.
Dubois, Dan. 2009. “The Authority of Peremptory Norms in International Law.” Nordic Journal of International Law 78:133175.
Flathman, Richard. 1993. Thomas Hobbes: Skepticism, Individuality and Chastened Politics. London: Sage.
Focarelli, Carlo. 2008. “Promotional Jus Cogens: A Critical Appraisal of Jus Cogens’ Legal Effects.” Nordic Journal of International Law 77:429459.
Gaius, The Institutes of Gaius.
Gaja, Giorgio. 1981. “Jus Cogens Beyond the Vienna Convention.” Recueil des Cours 173:275316.
Gould, Harry D. 1999. “Toward A Kantian International Law.” International Legal Theory 5:3142.
Gould, Harry D. 2010. The Legacy of Punishment in International Law. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Guzman, Andrew. 2002. “A Compliance-Based Theory of International Law.” California Law Review 90:18261887.
Hannikainen, Laurri. 1988. Peremptory Norms in International Law: Historical Development, Criteria, Present Status. Helsinki: Finnish Lawyers’ Publishing Company.
Hart, H.L.A. 1958. “Positivism and the Separation of Law and Morals.” Harvard Law Review 71:593629.
Hart, H.L.A. 1961. The Concept of Law, 2d ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press (1997).
Hayden, Patrick. 2005. Cosmopolitan Global Politics. Aldershot: Ashgate.
Henkin, Louis. 1995. International Law: Politics and Values. Dordrecht: Kluwer.
Himma, Kenneth Einar. 2001. “Philosophy of Law.” In Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by James Fieser and Bradley Dowden (April 2001). (April 2, 2011).
Himma, Kenneth Einar. 2002. “Inclusive Legal Positivism.” In Oxford Handbook of Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law, edited by Jules Coleman, Scott Shapiro, and Kenneth Einar Himma 125165. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Hobbes, Thomas. 1651. Leviathan.
Hoekstra, Kinch. 2007. “Hobbes on the Natural Condition of Mankind.” In The Cambridge Companion to Hobbes’ Leviathan, edited by Patricia Springborg, 109127. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Hume, David. 1739–1740. A Treatise of Human Nature.
Janis, Mark W. 1988. “The Nature of Jus Cogens.” Connecticut Journal of International Law 3:359363.
Jones, Charles. 1999. Global Justice: Defending Cosmopolitanism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Kahgan, Carin. 1997. Jus Cogens and the Inherent Right to Self-Defense.” Journal of International and Comparative Law 3:767827.
Kant, Immanuel. 1785. Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals.
Kawasaki, Kyoji. 2006. “A Brief Note on the Legal Effects of Jus Cogens in International Law.” Hitotsubashi Journal of Law and Politics 34:2743.
Kelsen, Hans. 1967. Pure Theory of Law. Clark: The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd (2005).
Kingsbury, Benedict. 1998. “The Concept of Compliance as a Function of Competing Conceptions of International Law.” Michigan Journal of International Law 19:345372.
Koh, Harold Kongju. 1997. “Why Do Nations Obey International Law?Yale Law Journal 106:25992658.
Koskenniemi, Martti. 2005. From Apology to Utopia: The Structure of International Legal Argument. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kreça, Milenko. 1982. “Some General Reflections on Main Features of Jus Cogens as Notion of International Law.” In New Directions in International Law, edited by Rafael Girardot, H. Ridder, M.L. Sarin, and Th. Schiller, 2740. Frankfurt: Campus Verlag.
Linderfalk, Ulf. 2008. “The Effects of Jus Cogens Norms.” European Journal of International Law 18:853871.
MacDonald, R. St. J. 1987. “Fundamental Norms in Contemporary International Law.” Canadian Yearbook of International Law 25:115149.
Martin, Francisco Forrest. 2002. “Delineating a Hierarchical Outline of International Law Sources and Norms.” Saskatchewan Law Review 65:333368.
May, Larry. 2005. Crimes Against Humanity: A Normative Account. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Morgenthau, Hans J. 1940. “Positivism, Functionalism, and International Law.” American Journal of International Law 34:260284.
Neff, Stephen. 2006. “A Short History of International Law.” In International Law, 2d ed., edited by Malcolm Evans, 2955. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Nussbaum, Martha C. 1995. “Kant and Cosmopolitanism.” In Perpetual Peace: Essays on Kant's Cosmopolitan Ideal, edited by James Bohman and Matthias Lutz-Bachmann, 2558. Cambridge: MIT Press.
O'Neill, Onora. 2000. Bounds of Justice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
O'Neill, Onora. 2001. “Bounded and Cosmopolitan Justice.” In How Might We Live? edited by Ken Booth, Tim Dunne, and Michael Cox, 4560. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Onuf, Nicholas Greenwood. 1989. World of Our Making. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press.
Onuf, Nicholas Greenwood. 1998. “Constructivism: A User's Manual.” In International Relations in a Constructed World, edited by Vendulka Kubálkova, Nicholas Onuf, and Paul Kowert, 5878. Armonk: M.E. Sharpe.
Orakhelashvili, Alexander. 2006. Peremptory Norms in International Law. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Parker, Karen, Neylon., Lyn Beth 1989. Jus Cogens: Compelling the Law of Human Rights.” Hastings International and Comparative Law Review 12:411463.
Paul, Vladimir. 1971. “Legal Consequences of Conflict Between a Treaty and an Imperative Norm of General International Law.” Österreichische Zeitschrift für Öffentliches Recht 21:1949.
Paulus, Andreas L. 2005. Jus Cogens in a Time of Hegemony and Fragmentation.” Nordic Journal of International Law 74:297334.
Pellet, Alain. 1988–89 “The Normative Dilemma: Will and Consent in International Law-Making.” Australian Yearbook of International Law 12:2253.
Peñalver, Eduardo M. 2000. “The Persistent Problem of Obligation in International Law.” Stanford Journal of International Law 36:271302.
Raustiala, Kal, Slaughter., Anne-Marie 2002. “International Law, International Relations and Compliance.” In Handbook of International Relations, edited by Walter Carlsnaes, Thomas Risse, and Beth Simmons, 538558. Thousand Oaks: Sage.
Rorty, Richard. 2001. “Response to Molly Cochran.” In Richard Rorty: Critical Dialogues, edited by Mattew Festenstein and Simon Thompson, 200202. London: Polity.
Rozakis, Christos L. 1976. The Concept of Jus Cogens in the Law of Treaties. New York: North-Holland Publishing Co.
Schachter, Oscar. 1968. “Towards a Theory of International Obligation.” Virginia Journal of International Law 8:300322.
Shelton, Dinah. 2006. “Normative Hierarchy in International Law.” American Journal of International Law 100:291323.
Simma, Bruno. 1995. “The Contribution of Alfred Verdross to the Theory of International Law.” European Journal of International Law 6:3354.
Sinclair, Sir Ian. 1984. The Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, 2d ed. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Stein, Ted L. 1985. “The Approach of the Different Drummer: The Principle of the Persistent Objector in International Law.” Harvard International Law Journal 26:457482.
Stephens, Pamela. 2004. “A Categorical Approach to Human Rights Claims: Jus Cogens as a Limitation on Enforcement?Wisconsin International Law Journal 22:245272.
Turpel, Mary Ellen, Sands., Phillipe 1988. “Peremptory International Law and Sovereignty: Some Questions.” Connecticut Journal of International Law 3:364369.
Vattel, Emer. 1758. Le Droit des Gens, ou Principes de la Loi Naturelle, Appliqués à la Conduite et aux Affaires des Nations et des Souverains.
Verdross, Alfred von. 1937. “Forbidden Treaties in International Law.” American Journal of International Law 31:571577.
Verdross, Alfred von. 1966. “Jus Dispositivum and Jus Cogens in International Law.” American Journal of International Law 60:5563.
Weil, Prosper. 1983. “Towards Relative Normativity in International Law.” American Journal of International Law 77:413442.
Wild, Payson S. 1938. “What is the Trouble with International Law?American Political Science Review 32:487494.
Wittgenstein, Ludwig. 1953. Philosophical Investigations, 3d ed. New York: Macmillan.
Wolff, Christian. 1749. Jus Gentium Methodo Scientificum Pertractum.
Wolff, Hans Julius. 1951. Roman Law. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press.
Wouters, Jan, and Verhoeven, Sten. 2005. “The Prohibition of Genocide as a Norm of Ius Cogens and Its Implications for the Enforcement of the Law of Genocide.” International Criminal Law Review 5:401416.
Yarwood, Lisa. 2006. Jus Cogens: Useful Tool or Passing Fancy? A Modest Attempt at Definition.” Bracton Law Journal 38:1638.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

International Theory
  • ISSN: 1752-9719
  • EISSN: 1752-9727
  • URL: /core/journals/international-theory
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 15
Total number of PDF views: 130 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 240 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 22nd March 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.