Obeying the Law

38 Pages Posted: 7 Aug 2018 Last revised: 18 Apr 2019

See all articles by Michael Sevel

Michael Sevel

The University of Sydney Law School

Date Written: August 6, 2018


What is it to obey the law? What is it to disobey? These questions have received remarkably little attention. The inattention is remarkable because answers to them are largely assumed in vast literatures in legal and political philosophy, for example as to whether there is a duty to obey the law, whether authorities demand obedience, and whether civil disobedience is ever justified. A common view, more often assumed than argued for, is that obedience consists in acting for a certain sort of reason – for the reason that the law requires that one so act. That view has recently come in for criticism, but I think the view and the criticism are both inadequate, because both understand the relevant phenomena solely in terms of the concepts of a reason for action and acting for a reason. I argue, instead, that both obeying and civilly disobeying the law require acting intentionally with a certain sort of knowledge, knowledge which bears a distinctive relation to the action required or forbidden by law. I refine and elaborate these claims, in hopes of clarifying what is at stake in the debates about civil disobedience, authority, and political obligation in legal and political philosophy.

Keywords: Obedience, authority, civil disobedience, jurisprudence, legal philosophy, political obligation

JEL Classification: K00, K10, K14, K30, K40, K42

Suggested Citation

Sevel, Michael, Obeying the Law (August 6, 2018). Legal Theory, Vol. 24, 2018, pp. 191-215, Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 18/45, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3226760

Michael Sevel (Contact Author)

The University of Sydney Law School ( email )

New Law Building, F10
The University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW 2006

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