WHY do we obey the law? When we ask why do citizens obey the law, we're essentially asking what the possible grounds for political obligations are?

Suppose your friend is driving you home after a late night shift at work. She stops at the red traffic light even though there no cars or police around.

You ask, ''Why did you stop? There is no one around.'' She replies.'' I know but it is the law. I have to obey it.''

However, it is still unclear to you why should obey the rule, if there is no good reason for it.''

This question in political philosophy is known as the problem of political obligation i.e. why citizens have an obligation to obey the state and its laws.

The problem of political obligation defines the relationship between the state and citizens.

Political philosophers make a key distinction obeying and complying with the law.

Citizens do what the law commands [i.e comply] for self-interest reasons such as reward for compliance or punishment for its breach, but they obey the law just because it is the law, such as in the traffic light example.

Immanuel Kant would call it the ''categorical imperative.''

When we ask why do citizens obey the law, we are essentially asking what the possible grounds for  political obligation are?

Guy Fletcher, a professor of philosophy at Edinburgh University, says there are at least three possible grounds for political obligation: Benefit theory, consent theory, and fairness theory.

The benefit benefit or gratitude theory, associated with Socrates, contends that citizens have an obligation to obey the law because the state bestows benefits upon them.

This claim has two components :

Citizens benefit from the state and because they are benefited by the state, citizens have an obligation to obey it. The problem with the benefit theory, Fletcher claims, is that benefit cannot generate an obligation on its own.

For example, are you obligated to obey your friend if she pays for your coffee? Of course, not.

You may argue, ''But there is a difference between my friend and the state.''

''Yes, there is, but the logic is the same : Benefit alone cannot give rise to an obligation. We need something more than that.

The honor and serving of the latest Operational Research on Law, The Rights, The Evolution, continues.

The World Students Society thanks author Aslam Kakar, Lecturer, Department of English, Rutgers University, USA.


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