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The Duty to Obey the Law: Selected Philosophical Readings

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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 ide 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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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 ide 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.

30 review for The Duty to Obey the Law: Selected Philosophical Readings

  1. 5 out of 5

    Sergei Moska

    I gave this four stars in terms of its content - all (or at least almost all) the pieces are very important, and the chronological presentation gives a nice feel for the topic. The one caveat is that none of the material is new, and almost all the essays are available through JSTOR. The book runs about 350 pages, and I had already read 100 of them. Still, if you haven't already read the essays and can find a copy of the book for a decent price, it's a definite buy. I gave this four stars in terms of its content - all (or at least almost all) the pieces are very important, and the chronological presentation gives a nice feel for the topic. The one caveat is that none of the material is new, and almost all the essays are available through JSTOR. The book runs about 350 pages, and I had already read 100 of them. Still, if you haven't already read the essays and can find a copy of the book for a decent price, it's a definite buy.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ashwin Balamohan

  3. 5 out of 5

    Wes

  4. 5 out of 5

    le bricoleur Boyle

  5. 4 out of 5

    Peter Jacobsson

  6. 4 out of 5

    shaun bockert

  7. 5 out of 5

    Chris

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ezrasaurus

  9. 4 out of 5

    Joe

  10. 5 out of 5

    Lylesmith

  11. 5 out of 5

    Justin

  12. 4 out of 5

    Chana Masaledar

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mina

  14. 4 out of 5

    Rizalde Laudencia

  15. 4 out of 5

    Malik Newton

  16. 4 out of 5

    Yessica Juarez

  17. 5 out of 5

    Annual Survey

  18. 5 out of 5

    João Felipe

  19. 4 out of 5

    Hany

  20. 5 out of 5

    Alex The Ninja Squirrel

  21. 5 out of 5

    HWDuan

  22. 4 out of 5

    Syed Muhammad

  23. 4 out of 5

    Harrison Recht

  24. 5 out of 5

    Amy

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tinatin Erkvania

  26. 5 out of 5

    epiphenomenalism

  27. 4 out of 5

    Boen Dorotheo

  28. 4 out of 5

    Munazza

  29. 4 out of 5

    Tural Huseyn

  30. 5 out of 5

    Letitia Botchway

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