Skip to main content
    • Aa
    • Aa

STATE OF THE ART:: The Duty to Obey the Law

  • William A. Edmundson (a1)

Philosophy, despite its typical attitude of detachment and abstraction, has for most of its long history been engaged with the practical and mundane-seeming question of whether there is a duty to obey the law. As Matthew Kramer has recently summarized: “For centuries, political and legal theorists have pondered whether each person is under a general obligation of obedience to the legal norms of the society wherein he or she lives. The obligation at issue in those theorists' discussions is usually taken to be prima-facie, comprehensively applicable, universally borne, and content-independent.” This essay is a commentary on the current state of discussion of this perennial philosophical topic.

Linked references
Hide All

This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

AlexanderLarry A.1985Pursuing the Good—Indirectly.” Ethics95: 315332.

AlexanderLarry A, and EmilySherwin. 2001The Rule of Rules: Morality, Rules, and the Dilemmas of Law (Durham, NC: Duke University Press).

AnscombeG.E.M. 1958Modern Moral Philosophy.” Philosophy33: 119.

ArnesonRichard. 1982The Principle of Fairness and Free-Rider Problems.” Ethics92: 624626.

BermanMitchell. 2002The Normative Functions of Coercion Claims.” Legal Theory8: 4589.

BoxillBernard R.1993On Some Criticisms of Consent Theory.” Journal of Social Philosophy24: 81102.

BratmanMichael E.1999Shared Intention and Mutual Obligation.” In Michael E.Bratman. Faces of Intention (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

CarterAlan. 2001Presumptive Benefits and Political Obligation.” Journal of Applied Philosophy18: 229243.

ColemanJules. 1989On the Relationship between Law and Morality.” Ratio Juris2: 6678.

CoppDavid. 1999The Idea of a Legitimate State.” Philosophy & Public Affairs28: 345.

CoppDavid. 2002Social Unity and the Identity of Persons.” Journal of Political Philosophy10: 365391.

CushingSimon. 2003Justification, Legitimacy and Social Embeddedness: Locke and Rawls on Society and the State.” Journal of Value Inquiry37: 217231.

Dan-CohenMeir. 1984Decision Rules and Conduct Rules: On Acoustic Separation in Criminal Law.” Harvard Law Review97: 625677.

DorisJohn M.1998Persons, Situations and Virtue Ethics.” Noûs32: 504530.

DunnJohn. 1980Political Obligation in Its Historical Context (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

DurningPatrick. 2003Political Legitimacy and the Duty to Obey the Law.” Canadian Journal of Philosophy33: 373390.

EdmundsonWilliam A.1993Rethinking Exclusionary Reasons.” Law and Philosophy12: 329343.

EdmundsonWilliam A.1994Stephen Guest, Ronald Dworkin.” Ethics104: 394396.

EdmundsonWilliam A.1995Is Law Coercive?” Legal Theory1: 81111.

EdmundsonWilliam A.1998Three Anarchical Fallacies: An Essay on Political Authority (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

EdmundsonWilliam A.2002Social Meaning, Compliance Conditions, and Law's Claim to Authority.” Canadian Journal of Law and Jurisprudence15: 5167.

EdmundsonWilliam A.2004An Introduction to Rights (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

FinnisJohn. 1989Law as Co-ordination.” Ratio Juris2: 97104.

GansChaim. 1992Philosophical Anarchism and Political Disobedience (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

GardnerJohn. 2001Legal Positivism: 51/2 Myths.” American Journal of Jurisprudence46: 199227.

GilbertMargaret. 1993Group Membership and Political Obligation.” The Monist76: 119131.

GilbertMargaret. 1999Reconsidering the ‘Actual Contract’ Theory of Political Obligation.” Ethics109: 236260.

HardimonMichael. 1994Role Obligations.” Journal of Philosophy91: 333363.

HartH.L.A. 1955Are There Any Natural Rights?” Philosophical Review64: 175191.

HimmaKenneth Einar. 1998Positivism, Naturalism, and the Obligation to Obey Law.” Southern Journal of Philosophy36: 145161.

HirschmannNancy J.1989Freedom, Recognition, and Obligation: A Feminist Approach to Political Theory.” American Political Science Review83: 12271244. Reprinted in Edmundson, The Duty to Obey the Law: Selected Philosophical Readings (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999).

HortonJohn. 1992Political Obligation (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities).

HurdHeidi. 1999Moral Combat (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

JeskeDiane. 1998Families, Friends, and Special Obligations.” Canadian Journal of Philosophy28: 527556.

JeskeDiane. 2001Special Relationships and the Problem of Political Obligations.” Social Theory and Practice27: 1940.

KloskoGeorge. 1987aThe Principle of Fairness and Political Obligation.” Ethics97: 353362.

KloskoGeorge. 1990aThe Obligation to Contribute to Discretionary Public Goods.” Political Studies38: 196214.

KloskoGeorge. 1990bParfit's Moral Arithmetic and the Obligation to Obey the Law.” Canadian Journal of Philosophy20: 191214.

KloskoGeorge. 1998Fixed Content of Political Obligation.” Political Studies46: 5367.

KloskoGeorge. 2003Samaritanism and Political Obligation: A Response to Christopher Wellman's ‘Liberal Theory of Political Obligation.’.” Ethics113: 835840.

KloskoGeorge. 2004Duties to Assist Others and Political Obligations.” Politics, Philosophy & Economics3: 143159.

LamondGrant. 2001Coercion and the Nature of Law.” Legal Theory7: 3558.

MarkwickP. 2000Law and Content-Independent Reasons.” Oxford Journal of Legal Studies20: 579596.

MasonAndrew. 1997Special Obligations to Compatriots.” Ethics107: 429437.

MorrisChristopher. 1998An Essay on the Modern State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

MurphyMark C.1994Acceptance of Authority and the Requirement to Comply with Just Institutions: A Comment on Waldron.” Philosophy & Public Affairs23: 271277.

MurphyMark C.1997bThe Conscience Principle.” Journal of Philosophical Research22: 387407.

MurphyMark C.2001Natural Law, Consent, and Political Obligation.” Social Philosophy & Policy18: 7092.

MurphyMark C.(unpublished manuscript)Philosophical Anarchisms, Moral and Epistemological.”.

RawlsJohn. 1955Two Concepts of Rules.” Philosophical Review64: 313.

SartoriusRolf. 1981Political Authority and Political Obligation.” Virginia Law Review67: 317.

SchefflerSamuel. 1997Relationships and Responsibilities.” Philosophy & Public Affairs26: 189209. Reprinted in Samuel Scheffler, Boundaries and Allegiances (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

SchmidtzDavid. 1990Justifying the State.” Ethics101: 89102.

SimmonsA. John. 1996bAssociative Political Obligations.” Ethics106: 247273. Reprinted in Simmons, Justification and Legitimacy: Essays on Rights and Obligations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 65–92.

SmithM.B.E.1973Is There a Prima Facie Obligation to Obey the Law?” Yale Law Journal82: 950976. Reprinted in Edmundson, The Duty to Obey the Law: Selected Philosophical Readings (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999).

SoperPhillip. 2002The Ethics of Deference (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

StarkCynthia. 2000Hypothetical Consent and Justification.” Journal of Philosophy97: 313334.

TunickMark. 2002The Moral Obligation to Obey Law.” Journal of Social Philosophy33: 464482.

WellmanChristopher H.1996Liberalism, Samaritanism, and Political Legitimacy.” Philosophy & Public Affairs25: 211237.

WellmanChristopher H.1997Associative Allegiances and Political Obligations.” Social Theory and Practice23: 181204.

WellmanChristopher H.2000Relational Facts in Liberal Theory: Is There Magic in the Pronoun ‘My’?” Ethics110: 537562.

WellmanChristopher H.2001aToward a Liberal Theory of Political Obligation.” Ethics111: 735759.

WellmanChristopher H.2001bFriends, Compatriots, and Special Political Obligations.” Political Theory29: 217236.

WellmanChristopher H.2004Political Obligation and the Particularity Requirement.” Legal Theory. 10: 97115.

WolffJonathan. 1990–1991What Is the Problem of Political Obligation?” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society91: 153169.

WolffJonathan. 1995Political Obligation, Fairness, and Independence.” Ratio8: 8799.

Recommend this journal

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

Legal Theory
  • ISSN: 1352-3252
  • EISSN: 1469-8048
  • URL: /core/journals/legal-theory
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 16
Total number of PDF views: 174 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 820 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 20th September 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.