Moral indeterminacy and the specification model of political obligation

2005 2005

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Abstract (summary)

Central to political philosophy is the question of whether or not a citizen has a moral obligation to obey the laws issued by her state. Much important work has been done on this topic. Perhaps the most important works in political philosophy, including John Locke's, Two Treatises on Government, and Thomas Hobbes's Leviathan have attempted to answer the question in the affirmative. However, recently there has been a resurgence of defenders of the anarchist position. Those who defend this position argue that no sufficient answer has been provided and for that reason we should accept that there is no moral duty to obey the law. Here I will argue against this conclusion.

My approach will start where the contemporary debate has left off. That is, I will analyze the anarchist's claim that without a moral duty to obey the law there is no danger of social strife or disorder. While the anarchist assures us that moral duties are more than sufficient to maintain social order I argue that this conclusion is highly suspect. Because the moral principles on which the anarchist relies are themselves vague and open to multiple, reasonable interpretations, we will find that those principles are incapable organizing social interaction. What we need to have, in order for our shared moral principles to be action guiding, are more specific rules which outline the precise ways in which we fulfill our moral duties. I argue that some laws provide the specificity that we need, and when they do we have strong moral reasons to obey those laws.

In the end the reader will find that the defense of political obligation offered here is far more modest than more classic defenses of political obligation found elsewhere. My theory does not show that when there is a political obligation the state rules legitimately, nor does my theory show that there is a moral duty to obey all laws of the state. While I must admit that readers familiar with the problem of political obligation may find my offering less robust than the theories offered before it, I hope that they will find my theory better suited to answer the anarchist's challenge.

Indexing (details)

Political science
0422: Philosophy
0615: Political science
Identifier / keyword
Philosophy, religion and theology; Social sciences; Hobbes, Thomas; John Locke; Locke, John; Moral indeterminacy; Political obligation; Specification model; Thomas Hobbes
Moral indeterminacy and the specification model of political obligation
Harris, John Richard
Number of pages
Publication year
Degree date
School code
DAI-A 66/09, Dissertation Abstracts International
Place of publication
Ann Arbor
Country of publication
United States
9780542327728, 0542327724
Boonin, David
University of Colorado at Boulder
University location
United States -- Colorado
Source type
Dissertations & Theses
Document type
Dissertation/thesis number
ProQuest document ID
Database copyright ProQuest LLC; ProQuest does not claim copyright in the individual underlying works.
Document URL
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