37 Pages Posted: 23 Oct 2007
Date Written: October 22, 2007
I discuss the claim that certain moral principles are among the foundations of legal obligation. The claim raises two main questions. First, what is a legal principle, and what is it to claim that it is a foundation of legal obligation? Second, what is the case for the claim? I offer a conception of principles as normative considerations that determine the legal impact of political contingencies: they identify the reason why and the way in which institutional practice affects people's legal rights and duties. If this is right, it follows that principles are fundamental determinants - sources or grounds - of the law: they are among the considerations that make propositions of law true and thus give law its content, and are fundamental, in that, taken together, they settle the legal effect of any other consideration. We should expect that the case for principles having this role would have the form of a more basic abstract principle which sets the conditions under which institutional practice has force. I examine the argument that principles should have the role in question because citizens are entitled to principled consistency in the coercive official enforcement of demands upon them. If so, the case for principles is an argument from the responsibilities of government to conclusions about law's determinants, i.e. its grounds or sources. In that sense, it has much the same structure as the leading case against principles having the crucial role.
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