A Theory of Legal Obligation

Forthcoming in Sciaraffa and Waluchow, eds, The Legacy of Ronald Dworkin

Queen's University Legal Research Paper No. 2015-024

28 Pages Posted: 14 Sep 2014 Last revised: 11 Mar 2015

Date Written: September 11, 2014


I propose a theory of legal obligation, which I call the Simple Theory, according to which for me to be legally obligated not to do some action is just for it to be the case that, from the legal point of view, the reasons for me not to do that action defeat any reasons for me to do it. I show how the Simple Theory accounts for some central intuitions about the normativity and preemptiveness of legal obligation, how it dovetails nicely with recent work about precedential reasoning, and how it responds to Dworkin's arguments about legal principles in Model of Rules I. I also discuss the Simple Theory in light of so-called one-system views about the nature of law such as that defended by Dworkin in Justice for Hedgehogs, and close with some thoughts about normative powers and the value of law. This is to be a chapter in a forthcoming collection on the legacy of Ronald Dworkin.

Keywords: legal obligation, practical reasoning, Ronald Dworkin, legal principles

Suggested Citation

Essert, Christopher, A Theory of Legal Obligation (September 11, 2014). Forthcoming in Sciaraffa and Waluchow, eds, The Legacy of Ronald Dworkin; Queen's University Legal Research Paper No. 2015-024. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2495085

Christopher Essert (Contact Author)

Queen's University Faculty of Law ( email )

Macdonald Hall
Kingston, Ontario K7L 3N6 K7L3N6

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