In his article, Actions, Attitudes, and the Obligation to Obey the Law," Noar Gur, seeks to explain the aspect of obligation or duty to obey the law. The primary objective of the article is to demonstrate the significance and relevance of a law-abiding attitude among citizens, rather than providing a conclusive answer to the query of whether one is obligated to abide by the law or not. The Queen Mary University of London law lecturer, whose main areas of research include jurisprudence and legal theory, rejects the possibility that the socially predominant attitude towards the law is a result of mere superstition or error that should be done away with, and tries to make a headway as he gears towards providing an alternative explanation of the aspect of following the law in relation to popular and scholarly views. Scholars and populists have given their opinions on the issue, but due to the limitation of the article's objective, Gur does not dwell on all these opinions.
Throughout the article, Noar Gur uses the terms duty and obligation towards the law interchangeably although scholars such as Rawls and Hart distinguish an obligation as a voluntary act as opposed to a duty which is distinguished as what one has to do irrespective of whether they like it or not (Gur 327). In the process of making a headway towards an alternative explanation, Gur argues that although no one is obligated to obey the law due to certain moral presuppositions, the subjects disposition to abide by the law is a reflection of the desire to maintain law and order. This is done in two major sections. In one, Gur evaluates the ethical implications of peoples actions and in the other, examines the ethical implications of peoples attitudes towards the law. Gurs main argument is that even without a universal moral obligation to comply with the law, it is valuable to be a law-abiding citizen; an attitude that results from the disposition to abide by the law.
According to Gur, one of the arguments supporting the obligation to abide by the law is the issue of necessity. Gur bases his argument on David Hume's who, in his essay Of the Original Contract,' argues that obedience to the law is derived from "the interests and necessities of society" (Gur 329). For the purposes of closely examining Humes argument, Gur unpacks it by providing three presuppositions. One is that citizens are obligated to involuntarily uphold the schemes that have the capacity to secure a tolerable life in the society. The second assumption of Humes view is that the supremacy of the law necessitates the securing of various essential goods which enable the members of the society to live socially acceptable lives. The third one is that if a citizen breaks the law, the ability and efforts of the government to fulfill its essential functions would be undermined. Considering the three premises, Gur observes that the necessity argument is limited to legal and political systems thus may not necessarily establish a universal obligation to abide by the law.
In relation to necessity, there is an argument in support of obligation to obey the law based on the integration of fairness. This argument is dependent on the postulation that to attain and protect essential goods in the society, it is necessary to have a functional government. The problem with this assumption is that it does not assume that an ordinary citizen can violate the law thus undermining the ability of the government to provide and protect these goods. Gur observes that although the scope of the obligation to obey the law can only be widened by an integration of fairness and necessity, the argument risks overgeneralization. An individual may deliberately undermine the law. Therefore, Gur rejects the aspect of fairness as one that cannot adequately establish an overall obligation to the obedience of the law since it does not apply to all situations.
Since the necessity and fairness integrated fail to establish a universal obligation to abide by the law, Gur explores the idea of attitude. According to Gur, an individuals actions in various situations are influenced by that persons attitude. Whenever a person faces legal requirements, their attitude towards normative practices, including the law, is what influences the way they will act (Gur 337). Gur uses the example of a lone driver who fails to stop at red traffic lights. He argues that it is the attitude of such a person towards the law that makes him fail to stop. He is all alone thus does not see the need to stop. According to Gur, many people seek to gratify their immediate needs regardless of whether they are breaking the law or not due to their attitudes towards the same law. Such people do not consider obeying the law as one of their obligations. Gur concludes his article by asserting that coercive enforcement measures are not enough for the efficacy of a legal system. The power of practical normative attitude towards the law is equally imperative and should not be underestimated since it determines situational biases in decision-making. However, Gur does not provide a definite answer as to whether there is a moral obligation to obeying the law. He only lays a foundation for further inquiry into whether the aspect of attitude influences the decision made by a citizen to feel obligated to obey the law.
Gur, Noam. "Actions, attitudes, and the obligation to obey the law." Journal of Political Philosophy 21.3 (2013): 326-346.
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