Political obligation


Should be be obliged to follow the laws and decree

  • Are you still obligated to obey the commands of government even if the system is stacked against you?
  • Institutional discrimination? Racism? Sexism? Age discrimination? 
  • Politicians will argue that you should obey in order to improve yourself and to improve society as a whole. 
  • Socrates claimed that one must obey the state even though his own state of athens condemned him to death. 
  • Are you obliged to stop at traffic lights in the middle of the desert? 
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What are we obliged to uphold?

  • Laws - Regardless of what they are we must follow them. eg. You must not kill anyone unless the state condones it, you must wear a seatbelt etc.
  • Institutions - Citizens are obliged to uphold national institutions as laws don't cover all eventualities. - eg. You must not encroach on other's intellectual property etc. 
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Why should we obey the law?

1. Gratitude - We obey the law because we are showing that we are grateful for the benefits that the government brings to society. 

This argument stems from a religious concept of debt to a creator.

Can also however be used to justify tyranncal governments. 

Also, for this argument to work, everybody must accept a basic premise, that the government actually does benefit everyone in society, when this is not always the case, so why should we be grateful?

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Why should we obey the law?

2. Mutual consent - John Rawls argues that obligation is not due to the officials or institutions that make the laws, but the people who's consent make it possible for a government to benefit society. 

In other words, without our consent, laws and institutions couldn't be upheld at all. 

Plato and Locke argued that residence in a country for any period of time constitutes impicit consent to the laws of the land. Basically if you don't like it, you can leave. If one consents to the law then they are therefore obliged to obey it. 

However this ignores economic conditions, birthplace etc. 

Furthermore, the utterance of "I consent" will not necessarily be genuine. 

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Why should we obey the law?

3. Utilitarianism - It is generally in the best interest of the majority of people to obey the law. 

Problems: Justifies anyone being allowed to kill if the state condones it

Also goes against the whole basis of the utilitarian principle of the greatest happiness for the greatest number by assuming that this would be brought about by siding with the government. 

Presupposes that following the law will always lead to a better outcome than not following the law.

Nazi Germany - Disobeying the law can lead to a greater happiness outcome in the long run. 

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