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Associative Political Obligations

33 Pages Posted: 18 Feb 2009  

A. John Simmons

University of Virginia

Date Written: February 16, 2009


It is claimed by philosophers as diverse as Burke, Walzer, Dworkin, and MacIntyre that our political obligations are best understood as "associative" or "communal" obligations -- that is, as obligations that require neither voluntary undertaking nor justification by "external" moral principles, but rather as "local" moral responsibilities whose normative weight derives entirely from their assignment by social practice. This paper identifies three primary lines of argument that appear to support such assertions: conceptual arguments, the arguments of nonvoluntarist contract theory, and communitarian arguments (which emphasize both an "identity thesis" and a "normative independence thesis"). However, each of these lines of argument fails to show that political obligations are associative obligations.

Suggested Citation

Simmons, A. John, Associative Political Obligations (February 16, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

Alan Simmons (Contact Author)

University of Virginia ( email )

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